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What do Americans Think about Federal Tax Options to Support Public Transit, Highways, and Local Streets and Roads? Results from Year Four of a National Survey

June 2013

Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Hilary Nixon


Revenue generated from gas taxes has fallen significantly in the past decades, from both federal and state-based taxes. As America’s road infrastructure is deteriorating, taxes must be raised to repair the failing roads. Multiple surveys were conducted in order to gauge survey respondents’ attitudes about several kinds of gas, mileage, and sales taxes, as well as their transportation habits. Past survey trends have indicated that support for these gas taxes is generally low, but support increases when tied to environmental benefits. However, sales taxes are generally more supported at the state and local levels. Mileage taxes were mildly supported, with usually between 39-50% of participants supporting them. The group of surveys conducted by the MTI showed that a majority of American would support increased taxes, given that certain conditions were met. Taxes that had designated purpose (ex: funding for road improvement, traffic safety) were much more likely to be supported than general taxes. The exception to this was the sales tax, with a 5 cent sales tax being supported by 51% of respondents, which confirms past findings. Political party, race, and transit usage also impacted responses. Democrats, the young, and racial minorities were more likely to support the tax along with those who consistently use public transit. People who drive more fuel-efficient vehicles were more likely to support the tax, compared to those who drive average or not as fuel-efficient vehicles.

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Policy Implications

It would be difficult to have broad, general support for gas taxes. However, designating taxes towards certain purposes would probably be the most efficient way of gaining constituent support. Likewise, linking taxes to environmental causes would most likely produce positive results. While certain forms of mileage taxes are not popular, tying them into environmental causes may make them more feasible. The changing demographics of the US may also lead to increased support for public transit.

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