After the Gas Tax Runs Dry

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1 After the Gas Tax Runs Dry Martin Wachs, Director Transportation, Space & Technology

2 Financial Crisis Because Population growing Traffic growing faster than population User fee revenue is falling Road condition is deteriorating Congestion is worsening Feds & states are devolving responsibility to local government

3 Crisis is here now Unable to fund standard maintenance much less system expansion or environmental improvements For first time ever less than half of state transportation expenditures from user fees Governor s bond issue initiative Federal Highway Trust Fund and State transportation fund are both approaching zero balance while legislators oppose increase in user fees

4 Local Streets & County Roads Financed largely by property taxes on residential and commercial land... and ought to be... Most benefits come from access to property: postal delivery, ambulance, fire, police, water, sewer, telephone service Access gives value to property & value should be recouped Local streets & county roads carry tiny % of all traffic but are most of the surface area of the system

5 History of Highway Finance Local streets and county roads: transportation finance: 90%++ of system State highways bankrupting states in period; fastest growth of autos and roads ever... led to innovation of user fees Tolls most desirable user fee, in principle Motor fuel taxes and various car taxes adopted as second best but workable

6 History of Highway Finance Motor fuel taxes enormously popular Supported by wide variety of constituencies Adopted in every state by 1940 Federal motor fuel tax in thirties Fundamental finance mechanism for Interstate System in fifties

7 Local Public Transit Was mostly privately provided Gradually failed over decades Public acquisition and operation Financed largely by local general funds Federal & state support mostly from fuel taxes

8 Uniqueness of User Fee Finance User fees in USA became associated with trust funds and non-diversion constitutional provisions in many states Elastic definition of user fees allowed expansion to transit and to environmental mitigation in many states Hypothecation not common worldwide

9 Motor Fuel Taxes Usually expressed as Cents per Gallon Must be raised by act of legislature Revenue does not rise automatically with inflation as does income tax or sales tax Improving fuel economy lowers revenue per mile of driving Revenue declining precipitously in relation to VMT

10 Motor Fuel Tax Since 1922 a major source of transportation system revenue Rough approximation of a toll Is a USER FEE; not a general tax Imperfect but encourages efficiency Has not been raised to keep pace with needs General tax substitutes do not encourage efficiency

11 Motor Fuel Taxes Less Popular Now Still largest source of revenue for transportation capital expenses and operations Viability waning because Opposition related to high price of fuel Inherent contradiction for government Dramatic growth sought in fuel efficiency Ultimate replacement of petroleum based fuels for GHG policy reasons

12 Motor Fuel Tax Lagging: Federal Fuel Tax Changes, Average of Fifty States Cents per gallon Federal Fuel Tax in 1957: 3.0 Equivalent Tax; End of 2007: 22.0 Federal Fuel Tax End of 2007: 18.4 Difference: 3.6

13 Motor Fuel Tax Lagging: State Fuel Tax Changes, Average of Fifty States Cents per gallon State Fuel Tax in 1957: 5.7 If adjusted for Inflation; End of 2007: 42.0 Actual Current Fuel Tax: 22.0 Difference 20.0

14 Changes in Vehicle Fuel Economy Fleet MPG yr. MPG Change % change MPG Change since % change since

15 Projections of Highway and Transit Account Balances Through 2012 Source: Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007, Volume II, Chapter 5

16 Percent Change in Self-Help Taxes Compared to Gas Tax

17 Other Sources of Funding are Growing Local option transportation sales taxes Increased use of tolls Congestion pricing and HOT lanes Increased borrowing through bonds and Public Private Partnerships

18 Local Option Sales Taxes Most popular and fastest growing Majority or supermajority (in CA) vote of public required Sunset date; reauthorization required Lists of projects or categories of spending Implementation by local governments

19 Change Is Happening Quickly 44 transportation finance ballot measures in U.S. in 2002; 47 in 2007 (steady pace every year) Most for a single county A few regional in nature; even fewer statewide 80% were sales taxes A few property taxes A few local gasoline taxes A few bond issues along with current taxes

20 Issues Raised by LOSTs Move away from user fee philosophy Sales tax is broad based tax Regressive Consistency with regional transportation plans Project delivery Local authority and responsibility Flexibility versus specificity Salience of issue of trust

21 Growth In Borrowing For Transportation Like a home mortgage Particularly attractive in states with much through traffic where toll revenue is lucrative Must repay capital plus interest... roughly doubles the cost Access to capital markets

22 Potential For Borrowing Limited Projects having positive cash flow Challenges of public transit Costs of interest and risk

23 Motor Fuel Tax was Adopted as Second Best Solution Whether hypothecated (USA) or not (Europe) Tolls were seen to be superior and more flexible Tolls were put off until collection mechanisms could be perfected

24 For Eight Decades Economists offered arguments for tolls & congestion pricing based mostly on efficient management of investments in roads... but... Fuel taxes produced adequate revenue Costs and complexity of collecting tolls continued to be issues... and...

25 For Eight Decades Political opposition to paying for road use through BOTH taxes and tolls Equity is always politically more difficult than efficiency, and equity is the issue most widely raised This opposition is still an issue... but... at least in North America...

26 Some Major Factors Have Changed Revenue is falling so dramatically from traditional method of taxing motor fuels... revenue need may be more important in practical terms than efficiency goals of pricing Propulsion technology is reducing the long term viability of fuel taxes as a surrogate for tolls

27 Back to the Future? Underlying issues are similar to 1920 s... Revenue shortages User fees seem reasonable & appropriate But now... tolls easier to collect, electronically Fuel tax promises to be less useful in the future

28 Progress in Past Decade Facility pricing in the USA vs. area pricing in Europe HOT lanes... SR 91, I-15 and growing Proving efficiency and effectiveness of electronic toll collection... also building public acceptance of tolls Prospects growing in many metro areas

29 What Does the Future Hold? Few North American applications for area pricing like in London More applications to facilities Most applications will be on new capacity Specialized facilities: HOT lanes, bridges, bottlenecks, truck-only lanes

30 What Does the Future Hold? Revenue use critical to perception of equity Many projects are multi-modal revenue used for transit and busways included in projects Decline of motor fuel basis of road user fees is inevitable; congestion pricing is not Prospects are improving

31 Experiments in Electronic Tolling

32 Already in Use for Truck Fees Throughout Europe; Trials in the USA for Passenger Vehicles Atlanta Twin Cities State of Oregon Seattle

33 Political/Public Acceptance: The Privacy Issue Fear With all this on-board technology, is Big Brother watching? Fueled by press misrepresentations: LA Times quote: tracking devices send a signal to a GPS satellite following the car

34 Is It Possible to Envision Future Policy? Motor fuel tax losing its effectiveness after 90 years Local measures are interim measures and possibly longer term for public transit New user fees, using distance charges and GPSS on new highway capacity & eventually to replace fuel tax

35 The Transition is Underway, but Difficult to Understand GPSS Truck Use Charges in Europe Fuel Tax Still Valid for Decades in USA Issue of Double Taxation if Tolls are Charged on Existing Roads Probability of Tolls on NEW CAPACITY Shift is Already Happening

36 Which Way Do We Go?

37 THANK YOU! ITS TIME FOR YOUR QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS

38 BACKUP SLIDES

39 2005 Revenue Used for Highways (by Collecting Agencies) in Millions and Percent Source: Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007, Volume II, Chapter 5

40 Highway Revenue by Level of Government Source: Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007, Volume II, Chapter 5

41 Taxes Supporting the Highway Trust Fund Source: Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007, Volume II, Chapter 5

42 Federal Gasoline Tax Rates Source: Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007, Volume II, Chapter 5

43 2005 Revenues Used for Transit (by Collecting Agencies) in Millions and Percent Source: Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007, Volume II, Chapter 5

44 Federal, State, Local Agency Transit Revenue, Source: Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007, Volume II, Chapter 5

45 Distribution of Transit Revenues, Source: Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007, Volume II, Chapter 5

46

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