It’s been 20 years. Time to raise Delaware’s gas tax

 Time to fix our roads? Send your thoughts. (Rob Tornoe/Newsworks)

Time to fix our roads? Send your thoughts. (Rob Tornoe/Newsworks)

In 1995 the cost of a gallon of regular gas was $1.15. Paying for a gas tax was easy. Rob Tornoe says it’s time to think like that again.


Here’s Rob’s commentary:

Even with the recent spike in prices, the cost of gasoline is dramatically lower than it was this time last year. Are you driving more? Taking longer trips? Just idling for hours letting that cheap gasoline melt away?

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You’re not? Well that’s the exact reason why Delaware’s gas tax should be increased. 

Last year, Governor Markell proposed a 10-cent increase in Delaware’s portion of the gas tax (which now stands at 23-cents per gallon). His proposal would have raised an additional $50 million in revenue that could’ve been put towards Delaware’s crumbling roads and bridges, and it would’ve only cost the average driver about $60 bucks a year. 

On top of that, the money to fix the roads would be coming directly from the people who use the roads, and the more someone drives, the more someone pays. Seems fair, right?

Wrong. Markell’s proposal wasn’t even able to get a vote in the Democratically-controlled Legislature last year, despite the fact that last time the state’s portion of the gas tax was raised was way back in 1995. 

It’s not just a local problem. The federal gas tax was established in 1993 at 18.4-cents a gallon, back when a gallon of gas cost just $1. Since then, it hasn’t been raised a single cent, so for those doing the math at home, a roughly 40 percent tax declined to around 12 percent thanks to weak-kneed Democrats and anti-tax Republicans. 

Don’t expect for things to change much on that front. In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal didn’t just call for freezing the current federal gas tax, they want to eliminate it entirely, leaving it completely up to the states to figure out how to to fund road and bridge repairs.

So focusing on Delaware, it seems if there was any time to increase the local gas tax, now is it. Gas sits at about $2.15 a gallon in Delaware as I write this, nearly a dollar less a gallon than this time last year. So I’m supposed to believe drivers could afford that extra dollar then, but an extra dime today would be devastating? 

Not only that, most of us today are driving in cars that are much more fuel efficient than their 1993 counterparts, so even a modest increase in Delaware’s portion of the gas tax should be easier to absorb by today’s drivers. 

We also know that historically, gas tax increases help fund infrastructure projects (like Delaware’s $780 million backlog in put-off infrastructure projects). Without them, those much-needed repairs grind to a halt faster than a car diving into a unfixed pothole.

Unfortunately, I’m even less optimistic this time around. In his “State of the State” speech, Markell didn’t even put a price tag on a proposed increase, leaving it up to the same Legislature that stonewalled his proposal last year to figure it out. 

Both Maryland and Pennsylvania saw new gas tax increases go into effect on January 1, and as far as I can tell, their economies haven’t imploded. In fact, 31 states (and the District of Columbia) have a larger gas tax than Delaware, and aside from New Jersey, we have a lowest gas tax in the busy Northeast. 

Republicans preach about “personal responsibility,” and Democrats support fixing our aging infrastructure, but as long as there are challengers waiting in the wings willing to chastise any tax increase, don’t expect any of your elected officials to budge. 

“Even though gas prices are very low I still don’t sense the support for a gas tax,” President Pro Tempore Sen. Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) told the Delaware State News

I guess its toll increases and more borrowed spending passed on to our kids. Hopefully they’ll have flying cars by then, so they won’t have to worry about crumbing roads and collapsing bridges. 


Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe

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