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Roundup: Voter Attitudes Towards Road Funding Alternatives

Voter Attitudes Towards Road Funding Alternatives

Recently, several scholars at Indiana University published an article entitled Searching for a Tolerable Tax: Public Attitudes toward Roadway Financing Alternatives, which offered interesting insights regarding Americans’ appetites for funding infrastructure.

The study ultimately explored the degree to which respondents were receptive to five revenue options: a mileage user fee; higher fuel taxes: increased toll usage; increased retail sales taxes; and higher income taxes. Specifically, the report focuses on the mileage user fee and support or opposition to the alternatives to the mileage user fee.

At best, the report is basically a mixed bag where even the most preferred revenue source is merely the veritable “tallest among the seven dwarves” rather than a truly popular option. Only about a third of respondents support the concept of “benefit-based taxation”, which is the basis for the user fee where the user pays and the user benefits. Approximately an equal percentage of respondents opposed all the revenue options. Nevertheless, in an environment where policymakers have struggled for two decades to find acceptable funding solutions, the study is interesting.

Support for each of the five funding alternatives was rather low. The most popular, at 33.8 percent, was tolls. Increasing the fuel tax was next at 22.8 percent. Then followed the mileage user fee at 20.9 percent, and higher sales taxes were at 18.3 percent. Last and definitely least was 13.4 percent for higher income taxes. The authors suggest that support for higher fuel taxes may be inaccurately low due to a lack of understanding. According to the study, about seven in ten respondents incorrectly think the federal fuel tax (18.3 cpg for gas and 24.3 cpg for diesel) is higher than it actually is. Further, it was these misinformed respondents who consistently indicated lower levels of support for relying on the fuel tax.

Notably, support for the fuel tax was higher in the South. Demographically, on a nationwide basis, it was also higher among men, high-income households, whites, the highly-educated, and Democrats. Support for tolls was less easily constrained by political or other factors. However, support for tolls was notably higher among women and very high-income households. Higher sales taxes were more popular with men, political moderates, Democrats, Midwesterners and Southerners. Among those who opposed the mileage fee, endorsers of the benefit-based concept were stronger supporters of a fuel tax increase and more tolls. They were also more inclined to oppose increases in retail sales taxes or income taxes.

To learn more about the study, feel free to contact Tom Lynch at our federal partner, Ice Miller Strategies LLC. Copies of the study can be found here.

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