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 Response Page - Munnich  Interview -      


These comments are responses to the questions listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Lee Munnich Interview of
10-14-2011.
 

Overview

Lee Munnich, director, State and Local Policy Program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, contends a new system of providing revenue for roads is needed because the use of fuel-efficient vehicles is resulting in a decline in gasoline tax revenue. Strong public opposition to higher gasoline taxes means other approaches to funding roads should be considered. Studies indicate a new tax could be based on miles driven, not gasoline consumed.

For the complete interview summary see:  http://bit.ly/vdrdJG

Response Summary:  Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Munnich. Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue. (8.6 average response) The growth in fuel-efficient vehicles means less gasoline consumed and, therefore, less income from the gasoline tax at existing rates.

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. (5.4 average response) But public opposition to raising the gasoline tax is too great to expect that such a source would assure continued funding for roads.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. (5.8 average response) Thus the gasoline tax is not sustainable as a main source of road funding.

4. Users should pay for roads. (7.6 average response) But roads should continue to be financed mainly by users, not by general revenues such as income and sales taxes. 

5. Try taxing mileage.  (6.1 average response) A new approach that relates road taxes to miles driven, not gasoline consumed, should be seriously explored.
 

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree

Neutral

Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue.

5%

5%

0%

22%

68%

37

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely.

14%

19%

19%

32%

16%

37

3. Gas tax no longer enough.

14%

24%

8%

27%

27%

37

4. Users should pay for roads.

3%

14%

3%

43%

38%

37

5. Try taxing mileage.

19%

14%

5%

30%

32%

37

Individual Responses:

Chris Brazelton  (10)  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)

4. Users should pay for roads. Because products that we all buy and use are transported using our infrastructure, indirectly we all "use" our roads and bridges, even if we do not drive on them. Costs of transportation would include whatever tax models we go with, and would likely be passed along to the consumer who would pay for them in the price of goods.

5. Try taxing mileage.  Change is a very difficult thing and will be resisted. In making the argument to the public, we should first argue for the fairness and necessity of a user-based payment system, then talk about the cost and inconvenience of switching all our roads to toll roads, then finally propose the alternative GPS technology, which suddenly doesn't sound so bad after all.

Bert LeMunyon  (7.5)  (2.5)  (2.5)  (10)  (2.5)

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. I think the public needs to be educated on this issue.  Also, since the price of fuel varies on a daily basis, the public is used to price changes, be they from inventory shortages, oil spills, Mideast conflicts, etc.  I think a modest change in gas taxes would probably go unnoticed.

5. Try taxing mileage.  By raising gasoline taxes, additional revenues can be had without affecting policies that encourage more efficient vehicles.  Truckers will continue to pay their share since trucks are the gas-guzzlers vis-a-vis passenger vehicles.

Ray Ayotte  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)

John Branstad  (10)  (0)  (2.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. Even in our highly politicized environment, Minnesota (thanks to then-Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher) was able overcome to overcome a veto and pass a bi-partisan transportation bill to increase funding for roads. Public opposition is rarely an issue. Obstinacy, ideology, and a lack of honest leadership from politicians are much more to blame.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. This conclusion depends on how one defines "sustainable" and "main". Does sustainable mean for the next 25 years, 50 years, or 500 years? Does "main" mean at current levels, over 50%, or just more than other sources? I would agree that the gas tax cannot provide enough dollars unless it is significantly increased. If that isn't practical (and it likely isn't) then alternative funding sources should be found. However, I'm not sure I agree that these other funding sources should replace the gas tax as the "main" source (depending on what that means).

5. Try taxing mileage.  The intent should not be to replace the gasoline tax, especially not in its entirety. Given the shortcomings in transportation funding, the total revenue needs to increase. If this can be accomplished by a slight reduction (in the) gas tax that is more than offset with a mileage tax, it should be explored.

W. D. (Bill) Hamm  (10)  (10)  (7.5)  (2.5)  (0)

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue. A fairly straightforward statement of fact, but where are you as moderators trying to point us?

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. The gas tax has always been unfair to rural consumers who by definition must use more gasoline to conduct their everyday affairs.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. Another fact being used here to point toward a preconceived fix.

4. Users should pay for roads. A lot of city mass transit riders are walking away with no liability under this scheme while being just as in need of good roads as the rest of us. Making users pay means all users including those who buy products hauled on those roads. A fair system needs to include those who have been free riders on the system.

5. Try taxing mileage.  This approach again attacks rural folks and producers while letting many city dwellers off the hook. We need a system that taxes all including the consumers of the goods hauled on those roads. We need a system where everyone pays, no free riders pushing their share of this cost off on others.

Pat Barnum  (2.5)  (5)  (0)  (7.5)  (0)

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue. It doesn't appear to me that any discussion or study was done about how much more people drive today than they have in the past. More driving, even with more fuel-efficient cars, means more gallons of gas and more "revenue" in taxes.

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. If taxes are to be assessed in some way, and raised, the cost of transportation will continue to increase, forcing higher food and other costs. People aren't stupid and see the connection with transportation costs (including taxes) and the rest of their budget. Changing the way it's taxed does nothing to alleviate opposition to paying more taxes and the inflation it causes.

4. Users should pay for roads. There are other solutions to road maintenance. Including privatizing some of them.

5. Try taxing mileage.  Absolutely not. There is no way to do this without tagging each and every one of us. What is this country coming to that any rational person, or even irrational government body would consider such a thing?  Orwell is rolling in his grave.

Amanda Giliotti  (7.5)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (2.5)

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue. This is true so we need to move to another method of capturing the needed funds.  But it should not punish those who purchased more fuel-efficient cars.

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. The people who had the foresight to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles should reap the benefit of their purchase.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. In the long run it isn't.

4. Users should pay for roads. So make the tax weight-based and have it paid at the same time that people renew their tabs.  The heavier vehicle put more wear and tear on the roads anyway and this might encourage people to buy lighter or smaller, more efficient vehicles.

5. Try taxing mileage.  Don't think this will work in the long run.  People will figure a way out of it.  I for one don't drive 10K a year and would fight having to have any kind of contraption added to my car that would track my miles.  Just tax me when I renew my tabs on whatever my vehicle weighs via the manufacturer specifications.

Dennis L. Johnson  (2.5)  (5)  (0)  (7.5)  (0)

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue. Maybe people with fuel-efficient vehicles will just drive more?  Remember the law of unintended consequences.

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. There is public opposition to raising all taxes, for good reason, in case the writer hasn't noticed.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. Gas tax is more directly related to the amount of wear and tear on roads than mileage.  How about motorcycles? Small cars = little wear.  Big trucks = lots of wear and damage.

4. Users should pay for roads. Road usage contributes to and sustains economic activity and growth; why should not some costs come out of general revenues and sales taxes?

5. Try taxing mileage.  Another dumb idea from people who have nothing better to do than think of new taxes and get compensated for doing so. Taxing mileage driven will be enforceable only by draconian methods; drivers will be driven to disconnecting odometers or other methods to avoid paying this tax.

Margaret Donahoe  (7.5)  (0)  (2.5)  (7.5)  (7.5)

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. The fact is that the public is even more opposed to a mileage-based user fee than to proposals to increase the rate of the gas tax so using that argument as the rationale to move to an even more politically unpopular revenue source doesn't make much sense.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. Theoretically, the gas tax can be increased as much as necessary to maintain current revenue amounts.  This statement assumes that the rate cannot be increased very much and also does not take into account other options for raising transportation funds other than moving from the existing gas tax to a mileage-based user fee.

5. Try taxing mileage.  This option should be explored, but it should be explored in the context of the fact that Minnesota's current fuel tax is constitutionally dedicated so the revenue cannot be deposited in the general fund for other purposes, that the fuel tax is not the only source of funding: tab fees and motor vehicle sales tax are also constitutionally dedicated sources that could be increased in the future.  We should consider any mileage based user fee to be implemented in addition to the current fuel tax which does provide efficiency in that those who don't drive at all don't pay the fuel tax and those who drive many miles consume more fuel and pay more in taxes.

Peter Hennessey  (0)  (0)  (0)  (7.5)  (0)

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue. There was no evidence presented to support this assertion.   It is true only on a car-by-car basis, and only if you limit your inquiry to passenger cars and hybrid power trains. But you also have to take into account the general trend away from passenger cars to SUV's and small pick up trucks, the greater number of vehicles, the greater number of miles driven both per car and in total, all of which would indicate no drop in the total amount of gasoline consumed, as well as the general reduction in the weight of newer vehicles, which means less wear and tear on the roads.   Also, the assertion ignores two important facts: (1) most damage to existing roads is being done by trucks, not cars, and (2) streets and roads are simply not built to last, they are built to require constant repair, as a result of a cozy, unholy alliance between politicians and road repair companies. For example, the autobahn and other roads in Germany are built on a road bed a minimum of six feet deep, with a top layer of reinforced concrete about a 18" thick, but in the US even a freeway's road bed barely goes to two feet deep, and the top layer on roads and street is a couple of inches of asphalt.  Finally, the gasoline tax is already automatically fair and accurate, in terms of the use of and wear and tear on the streets and roads. A lighter vehicle uses less and pays less; a heavy gas-guzzler uses more and pays more. Collection of the tax is already automatic; it is included in the price at the pump. No forms to process, no need for yet another army of bureaucrats to process forms and payments. The gasoline tax is inherently fair to all consumers and all income levels; if you are poor, you buy less and only when you need it and can afford it, but if you are rich and extravagant, you buy more and therefore pay more.

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. There was no evidence presented to support this assertion. Yes, of course there is opposition to any tax hikes. No, there is no proof that future revenues will be inadequate. The greatest problem is the diversion of the gasoline taxes for purposes other than the maintenance of existing roads and the construction of new roads -- such as converting traffic lanes to bike paths, subsidizing public transit, subsidizing lunatic "green" projects, even diversion into the general fund to paper over deficits.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. This conclusion is totally not warranted. There was no evidence presented to compare the costs of road maintenance and construction with the total revenues derived from the gasoline and other taxes on cars.

4. Users should pay for roads. Forget the qualifiers "mainly" and "general."   This is an important philosophical, logical point. If the roads are there for the benefit of the users, then user fees should pay for them. If the roads are there to support some sort of a greater societal benefit, then general revenues should pay for them, and taxes specifically on gasoline and cars should be eliminated.   Question: how do pedestrians pay for their use of the streets and roads? How does a public transit entity pay? Does part of the government subsidy to public transit get diverted to the other government pocket that pays for road maintenance and construction? It does get a bit confusing after a while, doesn't it?

5. Try taxing mileage.  Absolutely not. This is nothing but an excuse for further intrusion into what little privacy is left in this country. Proposals such as this envision the use of GPS tracking. This is nothing but the government's fascist frenzy for more and more control by monitoring my travels. It is simply none of a government's … business to track where I go, where I start, where I stop, by what route I get there, how long I stay, etc. And it would be only slightly less intrusive if the requirement were to take your car to the DMV for your annual registration renewal, so they can read your odometer and adjust your registration fee according to the miles you traveled since your last visit.   What's the next great idea for supplementing the gasoline tax, a carbon tax? Cap-and-trade on individual cars? How about a nitrogen tax, or an oxygen tax, on the amount that the car sucks from the air?   (We are) taxed enough already. Sales tax and fees when you buy a car. Yearly registration fees and property taxes. Gasoline taxes. More sales taxes and fees when you perform any maintenance and service on the car. Stop raiding all this revenue and then there will be enough to spend on roads.

Don Anderson  (7.5)  (5)  (10)  (7.5)  (2.5)

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue. While use of fuel-efficient vehicles means less gasoline consumed it doesn't take into consideration the size and weight of the vehicles as well as the driving habits of the driver, which also are a factor in the maintenance of roads.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. In order to make the gasoline tax sustainable it would have to be so high, no one could afford to drive.

Scott Halstead  (0)  (2.5)  (2.5)  (10)  (10)

5. Try taxing mileage.  I believe there should be a combination of fuel consumed, weight and miles driven/sales tax to pay for our roads.  Rather than having an expensive monitoring of miles there should be a sales tax with your license tags annually based upon weight and mileage and including trucks.  None of these funds should be utilized for rail/light rail transit until the U.S. Department of Transportation has (a) viable, cost effective and time sensitive program for awarding grants for rail transit.

Bob Fox  (10)  (7.5)  (10)  (2.5)  (10)

Bruce A. Lundeen  (10)  (7.5)  (2.5)  (0)  (0)

3. Gas tax no longer enough. The question is wrong.  Maybe the reader should be asked to recommend which funding source is preferable for providing revenue for roads:  a gasoline tax or general funds.  Personally, I see no problem with using general funds – everyone benefits from sufficient and adequately maintained roads.

4. Users should pay for roads. Heavy trucking is essential to the transportation of goods and services; trips to the mall contribute little in terms of public benefit.

5. Try taxing mileage.  It is more expensive to tax miles driven, and the government cannot be trusted not to misuse the data.

Dave Broden  (10)  (2.5)  (10)  (7.5)  (10)

1. Fuel efficiency means less revenue. Fuel economy is key but the revenue for roads and transportation must be maintained. The economies must result in some form of adjustment to the revenue side--either by basing the tax on an average mileage/gallon of vehicles in the Minnesota fleet or changing the process and source.

2. Opposition means tax hike unlikely. Opposition may be real but at this point there has been no dialogue so we should not say the public cannot be informed and make a educated decision.

3. Gas tax no longer enough. There must be other sources defined and used.

4. Users should pay for roads. Generally (I) agree but there is some point where public safety and public good reaches beyond the basic user and may need to be supported with other revenue.

5. Try taxing mileage.  Multiple alternatives including tolls, miles traveled, updated license fees, and others should be considered.

William Frenzel  (10)  (7)  (9)  (10)  (9)

Feds will probably raise gas tax sometime in next 3 years; Federal Energy tax is possible, but not likely; Federal competition will force states to be clever to get revenue needed.

Richard McGuire  (10)  (5)  (5)  (10)  (10)

Paying for roads by miles driven is a conceptually sound idea.  The gas tax needs to be viewed increasingly as a carbon penalty not as source of maintenance revenue for roads.  People should pay for the wear and tear they put on the roads and, they should pay for the wear and tear they put on the air and environment.

Al Quie  (10)  (0)  (0)  (10)  (0)

Raise the gas tax and index it. If it had been indexed when we should have, the gas tax would have been 38 cents now.

John Milton  (10)  (7)  (6)  (4)  (10)

I think the USA is delusional to believe that remaining dependent on personal autos as the chief source of transportation can be sustained. And we continue -- as a matter of deranged public policy -- to neglect infrastructure.  What I would favor is the use of progressive taxes to restore our failing infrastructure and build transit alternatives, and if taxing miles driven is more politically feasible than forcing our fuel to European-level pricing ($5-6 per gallon), I would favor that. 

Buzz Cummins  (10)  (8)  (10)  (9)  (10)

Carolyn Ring  (10)  (7)  (10)  (7)  (5)

I say "Neutral" to question 5, as there is no way to analyze it without data.

Fred Zimmerman  (8)  (2)  (2)  (10)  (4)

Many of Lee's observations are well placed. However, we still have major problems resulting from our heavy use of fossil fuels. Higher gasoline taxes are in order and make use of already existing tax collection mechanism. The problem is more with cowardly public officials who are too timid to get anything useful done.

Chuck Lutz   (9)  (1)  (1)  (1)  (1)

There’s “public opposition” to raising any taxes. Yet, public officials can be led, when needed, to raise them. Taxing gallons rather than miles is more just, because heavier vehicles that are less fuel-efficient will then continue to pay more for road maintenance, which is fair.

Bert Press  (10)  (0)  (0)  (10)  (10)

Conrad deFiebre  (10)  (3)  (3)  (10)  (7) 

Mileage fees ARE being seriously explored, in Minnesota and elsewhere. The study referenced in the summary includes multiple drivers in Wright and Hennepin counties. While the theory of taxing Vehicle Miles Traveled instead of gallons of fuel is sensible, issues of privacy and enforcement, as well as what would be a familiar political hassle around setting mileage fee rates (like the gas tax, it lacks sensitivity to rising infrastructure costs), pose great pitfalls.
 
Furthermore, we should not assume that raising fuel tax rates after many years of stagnation is not politically feasible. If voters are informed that the money goes for things they desire, like less congestion, smoother roads, safer bridges and less pollution, some polls have shown surprising support.

Finally, fuel taxes have served us well for nearly a century as user fees for driving. They are simple and cheap to collect, and lately have fallen sharply as a percentage of pump prices. People generally don’t know how little they pay for this tax, and that market price fluctuations far outweigh any effect of the tax. Credible proposals for sliding-scale fuel taxes that would rise when oil prices fall and vice versa should be explored along with Vehicle Miles Traveled charges.
The only real problem with the fuel tax is right-wing absolutist opposition to raising any government revenues, even the kind that provides an important foundation for economic prosperity.

Fred Senn  (10)  (5)  (4)  (10)  (7)

I think there are still good reasons to raise the gas tax. A mileage-based system will take a long time to fully implement.  Higher gas taxes hasten the conversion to alternative fuels by both manufacturers and consumers.

Robert J. Brown  (10)  (8)  (7)  (7)  (10)

Arvonne Fraser  (10)  (6)  (9)  (4)  (6)

Jerry Fruin  (10)  (5)  (5)  (9)  (9)

The gasoline tax was basically a user fee and generally accepted by motorists until it started being diverted to other uses such as transit and then trails etc.
A well-constructed mileage fee is the best long run solution- but it shouldn't be viewed as a catch all transportation fee that also subsidizes the alternative modes desired by some non-drivers. The
alternative modes should be subsided by other revenue sources if necessary (and if as effective as some claim would reduce the need for an ever increasing highway budget.) Otherwise, we'll start having the same problems before the new system is established.

Wayne Jennings  (10)  (3)  (6)  (6)  (8)

Even people who don't drive benefit from roads and bridges because of buses and trucks that deliver goods. I am sufficiently in favor of good and safe roads that I believe gasoline taxes could be higher. I think the general public would support that if there were transparency in how the money was used and good descriptions of the need. Actually taxes are lower nowadays as a percentage of total cost of gasoline. Poor roads take a toll and expense in terms of vehicle maintenance.

Gordon and Elaine Voss  (10)  (8)  (9)  (5)  (10)

There are going to be many kinds of alternative fuel and the mileage tax would cover them all.  If transportation has its own defined tax system, it will be more difficult to change social funding priorities such as libraries, transportation, schools, military and other priorities.

Clarence Shallbetter  (8)  (6)  (7)  (9)  (8)

Tom Swain  (10)  (7)  (7)  (10)  (10)

Roger A Wacek  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (0)

Base a new approach on increasing vehicle registration fees based on vehicle weight (which impacts road maintenance) rather than trying to redesign our road tax system related to miles driven.

Larry Schluter  (9)  (5)  (5)  (9)  (8)

Privacy issues will be a concern.  I think the heavy users like trucks are not paying their share now. 

Tom Spitznagle  (10)  (8)  (8)  (7)  (6)

Shirley Heaton  (10)  (10)  (10)  (10)  (5)

While this topic tends to be a bit over my head,  I can't help wondering if mass transit issues shouldn't be included in the equation.

    

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