Nice gas tax idea, nothing to back it up

Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Mike Lee and others  have an op-ed in today’s paper expounding on a favorite idea of conservatives:  Quit taking Utah’s gasoline tax dollars and then giving them back to us for federal road projects. Let us keep the money and do the projects without federal government workers getting their greasy hands all over the money first.

It is a tempting idea, but the editorial is long on hope and short on details. Since this is their idea, it behoves them to run the numbers and show us how this will work. Key points:

1 — How much money does the federal gasoline tax in Utah raise?

2 — How much does all federal road building and maintenance in Utah cost?

If the two match up, they can make a very simplistic argument for their case, but there are other questions.

1 — The assumption is that Utah’s road building plans will match the federal ones. The Interstate Highway System was built with mostly federal funds as a coordinated national defense project because during WWII the GIs noticed how spiffy the German Autobahns were for moving tank columns around.

But since one of the goals of this plan is to avoid pesky federal rules and regulations, who makes sure that Utah’s roads match the others?

Frankly, I think Utah should start driving on the left side of the road, like the British do. Really, local is better. Who cares how people in Idaho or Arizona want to drive?

2 — Who is to say that Utahns will sit still for having their taxes increased to pay for all those projects? If the price of gasoline drops, one could argue to Utahns that they need to divert that savings to the state, but does that not then represent a new state tax? And are we not in the era of “No New Taxes!” ?

Yes we are.

You could ague that Utah should not actually reduce the price of gasoline, just divert the tax revenue to the state. But if we’re going to stick it to the feds, I want to see the savings right now. Talk to me about new projects later. I might not want to pay for a new highway to Idaho if all it does is make it easier for people in Idaho to drive here. Maybe I want my own street repaved first, and who is better at deciding local needs than me?

It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the only reason state people want to keep the feds from getting their greasy fingers all over our tax money is because the state people want to get their greasy fingers all over it instead.

As several commenters on the story on our web page have noted, UDOT paid off an angry unsuccessful bidder last year with $13 million of someone’s tax dollars, a sure indication that (a) someone has too much money to play with and (b) when the money is big enough, you can’t trust state officials any more than you can trust federal officials.


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11 Responses to Nice gas tax idea, nothing to back it up

  1. Owain says:

    “Since this is their idea, it behoves them to run the numbers and show us how this will work.”

    1. If some hard hitting investigative journalist suspected the numbers didn’t add up, that would be a great story it would be to break, would it not.

    Anyone know any hard working journalists around here? Nah, me neither.

    My sixth sense. “I see lazy journalists.”

    2. It’s not a new tax, you brainless git, if it intentionally replaces the old tax. It’s not even a tax increase. For taxpayers, it’s a revenue neutral tax change. Sheesh. Should I have to point that out?

    • Bob Becker says:

      Ah… Owain, when the Bush tax cuts were slated for termination [the Bush tax cut bill zeroed them out in ten years so the long term budget busting nature of the tax cuts would be partially concealed], we had the Republican leadership in Congress saying if the Bush law was allowed to stand [i.e. the tax cuts would end automatically after ten years], it would be “raising taxes.” By that standard, Charlie’s logic seems pretty defensible to me. And if it isn’t, neither was the Republican leadership’s claim that allowing the Bush tax cuts to lapse constituted a “raising taxes.”

      In any case, if Chaffetz and Lee are proposing this, it’s up to them to provide the numbers in support of their plan, so they can be vetted. As yet, they haven’t.

      And in a similar vein, it has yet to be established that state legislators are more careful stewards of the public’s money, and expend it more wisely and productively, than Congress does. Might be so. Might not be. But it’s far from having been demonstrated.

    • ctrentelman says:

      um, which numbers would those be? Kinda the point. Their idea:their proof. No proof, no idea.

      Not sure why you find this confusing, except for the fact that you feel it must always be my fault.

  2. efialtis says:

    I think I have mentioned this before…
    For every $1 that Utah sends to the Feds, we get $1.09 back.

    So, even if we have to raise that tax by a fraction of a penny, it will free us of those federal regulations (also known as extortion)… and allow us to save money, even if it isn’t our money we are saving.

    It is a valid thought, and one I believe we should consider.

    • ctrentelman says:

      numbers? Oh wait, you come up with the idea, it’s my job to prove it for you. Thus sayeth owain.


      • ctrentelman says:

        and that $1.09 thing is ALL federal funds, and ALL fed taxes, not just road taxes. stick to specifics here.

      • efialtis says:

        Come now… while I agree with Owain (for the most part), I have said it before, I don’t agree with his methods…

        Here is a quick look of numbers in 2010:
        In this snapshot, it looks like Utah is receiving $1.07 for every $1 in 2010.

        If you ever want to see my sources, if I haven’t already posted them, please just ask. I have no problem with giving my sources. The above, for instance, while it is from “Visualizing Economics” the data is actually from

        I haven’t found a breakdown for each, specific item of federal tax… i.e. road tax v. social security, etc, but YOU help make my point…
        If we receive only $0.07 MORE than we give, and that tax is NOT in the fuel tax, (even if it is) it isn’t hard to make up that amount in lost revenue…

        I did find this:
        “Utah’s gasoline tax stands at 24.5 cents per gallon, ranking 24th highest nationally.”

        And I could extrapolate that if we got out of the Feds fuel tax schema, we might even pay less in gas tax…

        • Owain says:

          It would be better if the folks at visualizing economics published a better breakdown of federal taxes out/federal funds in. I suspect that, as Charles mentions, Hill AFB skews the figures. Hill has two fighter wings and an air logistic center, one of only three ALC’s in the USAF. There are billions of tax dollars coming into the ALC that aren’t directly involved Utah’s economy, since it involves USAF operations world wide. Hill is a big driver in Utah’s economy as an employer, but not every dollar that comes into Hill stays in Utah.

          Exclusive of defense spending, it would be interesting to see the numbers, and even more as far as this discussion is concerned, the numbers on gasoline taxes.

    • Bob Becker says:

      We get back a buck nine for each buck?

      That works out, seems to me, to a 9% annual return on what Utah pays in taxes to the feds.

      Sounds like a damn good return on our “federal investment” to me. Wish my bank was paying me 9%.

      • efialtis says:

        Sure, we might be getting $1.09 (or, from 2010, $1.07), but other states aren’t so lucky…
        New Mexico, for instance, pays $1.00 and gets $2.03, while New Jersey pays $1.00 and receives $0.61…

        And in ALL cases, we have no real info on how much revenue is sucked up by the federal bureaucracy…and how much could be saved by “cutting out the middle man”…

        • Charles Trentelman says:

          careful ef — a lot of that “federal bureaucracy” that “sucks up” Utah’s money is employed in Utah — Hill Air Force Base, the IRS to name just two. US Forest Service to name three.

          The IRS is a major supplier of lunch eaters to restaurants downtown, not to mention grocery shoppers, car buyers, and on and on and on.

          Is this included in your $1.07? Or is it part of the money “lost” to federal bureaucracy? Or are they both the same?

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