Councilman Joost: Why I Oppose Extending the Gas Tax

March 27, 2014 54 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jacksonville City Councilman Stephen Joost explains to the Metro Jacksonville community why he opposes extending the gas tax.

Any driver knows that when you see a dead-end sign, it’s probably time to change direction and find a new route. The last thing you should do is hit the accelerator and race full speed ahead.

But that’s what the proposal to extend the local gas tax for the next 20 years would do.

The world of transportation is changing before our eyes. How we pay for our infrastructure must change with it. To think we can simply continue business as usual, especially for 20 years, is a formula for failure.

In just the past decade, revenues from Jacksonville’s “local option gas tax” have declined 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars even as our population and economy have grown. Gov. Rick Scott’s transportation secretary, Ananth Prasad, has repeatedly said the gas tax is unsustainable. Florida has lost billions of dollars in recent years because of declining state gas tax revenues.

Two major trends make the gas tax a dinosaur. First, fuel-efficient cars and trucks are traveling many more miles on less gas. Today’s standard mileage is 23.6 miles per gallon. In 2016, the fuel efficiency standard for new cars and light trucks will be 34.1 miles per gallon. In 2025, it will be 54.5 miles per gallon.

Second, more cars and trucks no longer run on gasoline alone. The Toyota Prius used to be a novelty. Now it’s mainstream. Even more dramatic is the conversion of diesel-powered trucks to natural gas. The average heavy truck consumes as much gasoline/diesel as 40 cars in a year. Although these trucks are just 1 percent of all vehicles on the road, they consume 20 percent of all gasoline/diesel. Companies with large truck fleets like UPS and FedEx are in the midst of a mass conversion to natural gas.

It’s a fuel that’s cheap, abundant, environmentally friendly and American-made.

These trends also make the gas tax unfair. The gas tax used to make sense because people who drove more paid more. But with fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles, that link between road usage and gas tax revenue is now broken.

We must move away from a “business as usual” mind-set and consider fresh ideas. And with the gas tax expiration still more than two years away, we have time to do it. Instead of rushing ahead to make a 20-year commitment to a dying revenue source, we should have a robust discussion that’s focused on the future.

Some gas tax advocates insist we must decide right now because we would be able to issue bonds to borrow money before interest rates and construction costs go up. Granted, interest rates are low. But they have been for a long time, and the Federal Reserve gives every indication it will keep them that way. No matter the interest rate, it’s not fiscally responsible to jump deep into debt when we are unlikely to have the money to pay it off because the gas tax revenue stream has dried up.

So let’s take advantage of the time we have to engage in a thoughtful community conversation about how we pay for transportation. We have yet to hold even one town hall meeting on what would be a massive cost for Jacksonville residents over the next 20 years.

That lack of engagement is wrong. It’s time for the City Council to reach out to the community and ask our citizens for their thoughts and input. Instead of speeding down the dead-end road of a gas tax extension that will only lead to broken promises, we should survey the transportation funding landscape and map out a better, more reliable course into the future.

Guest Editorial by Jacksonville City Councilman Stephen Joost

Proposed Gas Tax Projects

If extended, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority would fund the following projects with the local gas tax:

Kernan Boulevard (Atlantic Boulevard to McCormick Road) --   $16.7 million

Countywide corridor mobility improvements (nine various) --   $15 million

Collins Road (Blanding Boulevard to Pine Verde Lane) --   $13.7 million

Girvin Road (Atlantic Boulevard to Wonderwood Expressway) -- $13.1 million

San Pablo Road (Beach Boulevard to Atlantic Boulevard) -- $11 million

Hartley Road (Old St. Augustine Road to San Jose Boulevard) -- $8.4 million

Collins Road (Shindler Drive to Westport Road) -- $5.3 million

Collins Road (Shindler Drive to Old Middleburg Road) -- $4.2 million

Countywide transit hubs improvements (various) -- $4 million

Tinseltown intersections (Southside Boulevard, Touchton and Hogan roads, Gate Parkway) -- $2.9 million

Soutel Transit Hub -- $2.8 million

McDuff Avenue and Fifth Street Phase III -- $2.2 million

Southside/Atlantic boulevards intersection (design only) -- $2 million

Blanding Boulevard intersection improvements (design only) -- $1.7 million

Old St. Augustine/Greenland roads intersection -- $600,000