Sunday, January 4, 2015

Filling the tank

Posted By on Sun, Jan 4, 2015 at 7:24 AM

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My family joined the millions of other Americans who drove over 50 miles this holiday season. Stopping at gas stations doesn’t seem like quite the jab in the gut that I have grown accustomed to.

We drove across the state of Kansas to Kansas City. I filled up frequently at the sight of less-than-two-dollars-per-gallon gas prices, typically filling up for less than $20 — we loved it.

But, as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss.

In reality our country has an incredible deficit for maintaining our roads and bridges. Our dependence on the automobile — and oil — is increasing by the day. Perhaps we shouldn’t rejoice at low gas prices just yet.

As referenced in a previous post, ("Automobile dependence and the effects on the region") and the 2012 QLI study, the Pikes Peak Region has over $900 Million of road maintenance needed.

How do we pay for our maintenance?

Theoretically, we maintain it with the gas tax; there should be a direct relationship of our maintenance expenses to the gas tax. Sounds great in theory, then come the politics and lobbyists.

In Colorado, the gas tax was merely $0.38 per gallon in 2014. (Including a $0.184 national gas tax.) This tax amount doesn’t fluctuate to the price of gas, like a sales tax would fluctuate to goods. In fact, this amount does not, and has not, come anywhere close to increasing with inflation.

Considering that the national gas tax hasn't been increased since 1993 —Colorado's gas tax hasn't increased since 1991 — we're far past due.

Utilizing an inflation calculator from 1993 to now, to keep up with inflation, the national gas tax should be around $0.30 per gallon. Combine that with the state tax, the total amount should be around $0.62 per gallon, based on inflation rates alone.

Infer what you will about our state and national elected officials, but to me, this seems like we’re kicking the can; it's not popular to increase taxes, low gas prices are popular. The oil Industry doesn’t want to see gas prices increase out of fear that doing so will decrease demand.

Our elected officials continually seek to decrease gas prices and their solution seems to be via the route of more, more, more — as the chants of "drill baby drill" ensue during elections.

Why do our elected officials want lower gas prices? Easy, we, their constituents, want lower gas prices. The problem is that we also expect our leaders to be responsible with our future, not just to be popular.

As much as we all love the falling prices at the pump, we’re past due on raising the gas tax.

John Olson is a licensed landscape architect, residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Planning and Landscape Architecture for EVstudio Planning & Civil Engineering. He is also a co-founder of Colorado Springs Urban Intervention, which implemented Better Block Pikes Peak in 2012, the recent Walkability Signage found in Downtown Colorado Springs, and perhaps most notably, Curbside Cuisine.

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