9 Investigates

Could the federal gas tax be phased out?

ORLANDO, Fla. — As America’s interstate system crosses the half-century mark, the traditional system of paying for new roads and existing road maintenance is sputtering, leading many to ask, is it time to retire the federal gas tax?

“Built in the '50s under the Eisenhower administration, and I think it’s an appropriate role for the federal government to tie the states together in a responsible way,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla.  “We really need help here, and what I’m hoping to see is for us to move away from the gas tax and towards a system of user fees based on vehicle miles of travel.”


What Waltz and others in Congress are suggesting is phasing out the $0.18 federal gas tax, moving the country instead to a system where road fees are based on use.

For years the gas tax has failed to keep pace with needs as more and more Americans move to increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles that create wear on the roads, but do not require as much fuel, and therefore pay less in gas tax, which has not been increased at the federal level since 1993.

“Those that use the roads and use the interstates more, trucking and industrial, it’s basically pay as you go,” Waltz said.

Waltz’s office cites a study by the nonprofit Rand Corp. finding that “fuel tax receipts, measured in real dollars per mile of travel, have fallen precipitously, leaving insufficient revenue to maintain, let alone expand, the road network.”

Rand, in its report, identifies eight possibilities for determining usage, from self-reported odometer readings or required odometer checks, to a GPS or passive tracking device for commercial use.

In its 2016 report, the American Society of Civil Engineers found that the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure was already having fiscal impacts on business through a loss of efficiency leading to decreased productivity.

The ASCE estimated at least a $1.1 trillion shortfall in infrastructure needs, finding that, “if this investment gap is not addressed throughout the nation’s infrastructure sectors by 2025, the economy is expected to lose almost $4 trillion in GDP, resulting in a loss of 2.5 million jobs in 2025.”

Waltz admits that the conversation about ways to pay for roads is still early and it may be difficult to make substantial changes to highway funding when the reauthorization bill comes up again in September 2020.  However, he says as the nation’s population continues to grow a solution must be found to address transportation.