With the United States about to start running out of money for roads, there's been a lot of talk lately about gas taxes. So here's a helpful map from the American Petroleum Institute laying out the variation in gasoline taxes around the country:
Let's break it down. The federal gasoline tax is 18.4 cents per gallon — a figure that hasn't changed since 1993. That's used to fund federal spending on transportation, and it applies equally to every state.
But on top of that, each state levies its own individual gas taxes to fund state and local transportation spending. This varies fairly widely from state to state. New York has the highest state and local taxes at 50.50 per gallon. (California is a close runner up at 49.7 cents per gallon in state taxes.) Alaska has the lowest at 12.4 cents per gallon.
(And for those wondering how New Jersey gets away with such a low gas tax — they've been funding a lot of infrastructure through borrowing and tapping revenue from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. But there are plenty of calls in the state to raise the gas tax, which hasn't been lifted since the 1980s.)
Gas taxes are one reason why gasoline prices vary so much nationwide — though they're not the only reason. California, Oregon, and Washington, for instance, all have rules that require cleaner-burning fuels, which can increase the price of gas. And shipping bottlenecks or refinery shutdowns can also drive up gas prices in some areas:
These charts are good ones to keep handy as we approach the federal funding crisis for transportation.
At the moment, federal gas tax revenues are insufficient to cover all the transportation spending that Congress has allotted. That's partly because the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993 and inflation has eroded its value over time. It's partly because Americans are driving less and buying more fuel-efficient cars. And Congress is reluctant to slash transportation spending, so they're scrambling to find revenue. (Federal transportation spending accounts for roughly 27 percent of all spending.)
The Congressional Budget Office has argued that we could cover the shortfall by raising the gasoline tax by about 10 cents per gallon and indexing it to inflation. So far, however, most politicians are unwilling to support this move.