Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

Prices are going up at the gas pump, and that’s hardly something to celebrate for drivers who have lost jobs or seen their wages reduced over the last year.

As the Observer-Reporter detailed in a Tuesday story, the cost of filling our tanks is escalating because some refineries are offline for maintenance, and others are down for the count due to the devastating winter storms that roared across Texas last month. Another reason prices are going up is demand is increasing – spring is here, vaccines are going into arms, and people are likely to be getting behind the wheel more frequently in the weeks and months ahead. If you’re looking for a silver lining when it comes to surging gas prices, there it is.

A chunk of what drivers pay per gallon is state and federal taxes, and Pennsylvania has one of the highest state taxes in the country, at 58 cents per gallon. In addition, 18 cents goes to the federal government. That means that 25% of what you pay is taxes.

And it’s not enough, believe it or not.

The federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and money has been shuffled around from other sources to keep the Federal Highway Administration afloat, and Pennsylvania’s gas tax has not been sufficient to keep up with road and bridge work across the commonwealth. Vehicles are more fuel-efficient than they once were, the revenue collected from the gas tax bounces up and down based on economic fluctuations, and electrically powered vehicles aren’t that far over the horizon. General Motors has pledged to be making nothing but electric vehicles by 2035, and other automakers will likely follow suit.

Recognizing the inadequacy of the gas tax, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the formation of a commission last week charged with finding alternative ways to fund Pennsylvania’s infrastructure needs. The group includes elected officials, business and union leaders, and will be meeting for the first time this Thursday. It is supposed to deliver a report and recommendations to Wolf by Aug. 1.

Undoubtedly, the possibility of tolling additional bridges and highways will be on the table. The commission should approach that with caution, however. The recently unveiled proposal to toll the bridge on Interstate 79 at the Bridgeville exit to pay for its rehabilitation has justifiably been excoriated for the impact it would have not only on commuters, but also on nearby businesses and homeowners. A couple of states are exploring the possibility of taxing vehicle owners based on the number of miles they drive, rather than how much fuel they consume, and that should be considered in Pennsylvania. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is reportedly open to using that formula on the federal level.

Trying to pull together a plan that will provide enough money and be fair to all the state’s residents will not be easy. But it’s necessary. The future where we no longer power our vehicles with fuel will be here before you know it.

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