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Low gas price open door for higher gas tax
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Gas prices at the Sinclair station and Quick-Kleen Car Wash on East Yosemite Avenue at noon Friday matched the Manteca Costco for the lowest prices in town – a $2.27 a gallon.

And if you were so inclined, you could drive to the Lodi Flying J on Interstate 5 and pay $2.19 per gallon.

This has a lot of folks cheering, including Republican and Democrat politicians.

They see this as a perfect opportunity to siphon off some of that extra cash that is flowing back into your pockets.

It’s because as things stand now, consumers are downright giddy. Pump prices are $2 a gallon lower than they were just eight months ago. Politicians figure you are primed for a gas tax hike.

Their rationale is based on a number of things:

The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon hasn’t been raised since 1983.

Gas mileage has almost doubled since the mid-1980s.

The federal government has a funding shortfall for highway construction funds.

Americans pay far less than their European counterparts do when it comes to gas taxes.

It is true the typical 52 cents a gallon Americans pay in gas taxes – its 68.7 cents in California before you factor in sales tax that currently adds 22 cents a gallon – is substantially less than in Europe. In Germany, they pay $4.09 in the form of taxes out of every $6.52 they spend for a gallon of gas. In the United Kingdom, it is $4.63 out of $7.12.

That, however, is like comparing apples and oranges. Based on statistics gleaned from the federal Department of Transportation, there are roughly 40 to 50 percent more vehicles per capita in the United States as compared to Europe that cover at least 20 percent more mileage in a typical year.

Based on new cars and respective national studies of various countries with statistics converted into gallons, United States drivers get 24.9 miles per gallon, German drivers 40 mpg and United Kingdom 52.5 gallons on average. In many nations, not all of the fuel taxes collected go to support road maintenance and construction.

All of those factors mean the United States may get as much and possibly even more gas taxes per capita than European nations.

Gas tax – in concept – is a user’s fee.

That means those using roads pay taxes.

However, that isn’t true.

A vehicle owner pays state and federal taxes that go to support bicycle paths, subsidize Amtrak, and pay upwards of 80 percent of the cost of mass transit systems such as buses and light rail. While they may also either use mass transit or bicycle or have members in their household that do, not all people who take mass transit pay gas taxes.

Some have argued especially in California that all vehicles should be equipped with GPS style devices that log every mile driven and road maintenance taxes be assessed accordingly.

That’s fine in theory, but what about those who have to drive miles each week on dirt roads to reach homes or to move around ranches and such. They’d be taxed for road maintenance they never receive. Then there is the issue of those in rural areas who get minimum direct benefit of state and federal gas tax dollars.

Of course, neither concern represents a major political obstacle for those wanting to jack up gas prices or implement miles-driven taxes.

Going to mile-driven taxes, however, would mean those who are rolling in the money and can afford $85, Teslas and benefit from $5,000-plus in tax credits that is money that goes directly into their pocket won’t be getting a free ride on public highways anymore since they do not pay gas tax at all.

Given changing technology, politicians should overhaul how we pay for roads instead of simply sticking it to motorists giddy over lower pump prices.

Unlike gas taxes that are part of the fuel price at the pump and aren’t given a second thought or the stealth greenhouse tax that California oil refineries will be forced to collapse into the price of fuel that could reach $1.30 per gallon by 2025, a tax on miles driven will be a cost number that stands alone.

It would serve as an incentive for those that commute long distances to either carpool or take mass transit when possible or to opt for more fuel efficient vehicles.

Such a system can’t be imposed overnight and would be extremely problematic to retrofit.

Instead, a base year should be and a per-mile drive charge created for new vehicles based on what they would pay at the pump for gas.

Each month a device that transmits limited data would provide information on miles driven to a government agency and a tax bill sent.

The tax – based on today’s price of gas and assuming one drove 15,000 miles a year and got 25 miles per gallon – would be $412. It would be the same that would be paid at the pump but new cars equipped with the mileage tax device would be exempt from paying when they fuel.

Such a system would not let electric car owners off the hook for road maintenance and construction. It would also be an extremely transparent tax especially if you have to make an electronic transfer each month to a government agency.

If politicians simply raise gas taxes because prices are low they will be making a bad situation worse as gas mileage will continue to rise creating more funding shortfalls and technology will put more cars on the road that don’t require gas.