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Should the Gas Tax Be Raised to Pay for Highway Building and Repairs?

Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 1:24 PM

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A few cars drive along Akron's Innerbelt in February 2014. (Nick Castele / ideastream)

Road construction is funded by the gasoline tax, which is declining because cars are more efficient and rates of millennial drivers are falling. And higher inflation is giving those fewer dollars less purchasing power. A simple solution to securing the future of road construction funds could be to raise the gas tax. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler sat down with a supporter and an opponent of raising the tax.

Republican State Rep. Rex Damschroder of Fremont said it’s fairest and simplest to charge those who use the roads what it would cost to fix them, but he admitted it’s a tough sell.

“There’s a lot of legislators out there without enough guts – and I will say that – to support, if you want to call it a tax, call it whatever you want, a user fee or a tax,” Damschroder said. “It costs money to maintain the highways. We need good infrastructure.”

But former state representative and longtime transportation expert Gene Krebs, who’s also a Republican, said talk of raising the gas tax is a fool’s errand.

“In order to make up for the lost purchasing power that ODOT’s currently experiencing, you’d have to raise the gasoline tax two pennies a year every single year just to maintain status quo,” Krebs said. “We’re not going to do that.”

Krebs advocated a restructuring of transportation to find the most efficient ways to get people and goods around the state, which he says could be by roads, by river, by air or by rail.

But Damschroder maintained a gas tax is the most direct way to fund roads. But as for vehicles which don’t use gasoline – Damschroder said they should be left alone for now.

“Kind of hold off until a lot of electric cars are on the road, a lot of hybrids are on the road and using the roads, and then maybe bring in the tax,” he said. “But at this point, if we want to encourage green energy, we can’t tax them to death, kill the industry before it even starts.”

But Krebs said there are no good choices regarding ODOT funding now – just ugly ones. And he suggested taxing the owners of electric and hybrid cars in Ohio now, even if it would be controversial.

“The General Assembly, as you and I both know, does not like or enjoy taking tough, unpopular stances,” Krebs said.

“But that could kill an industry before it starts,” Damschroder replied.

“It won’t kill an industry,” Krebs said.

“It won’t come to Ohio if we’re going to tax it,” Damschroder said.

“That’s a de minimis tax that would have no impact on the industry,” Krebs said.

But Krebs and Damschroder did agree that if legislators just get more revenue without any new ideas on how it should be spent, then the situation won’t change.

Krebs noted that the transportation budget included a task force to study ODOT’s financial situation, but that no members have been appointed to it. The task force is supposed to deliver a report by December.

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