A rainbow appears over downtown as residents check out rows of electric vehicles at Juneau’s EV & E-bike Roundup on Sept. 23. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

A rainbow appears over downtown as residents check out rows of electric vehicles at Juneau’s EV & E-bike Roundup on Sept. 23. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: We should all pay more for the privilege of driving

Alaska has the lowest gas tax in the country

Last month a law charging an annual $200 fee on electric vehicles (EV) went into effect in Texas. The Alaska Legislature needs to enact a similar law and include a lesser fee on hybrid vehicles. And while they’re at it they should rename the motor fuel tax to a highway use tax. And increase it to at least the amount that Texans have been paying since 1991.

Let’s start with the current tax Alaskans pay at the gas pump. It’s been fixed at 8 cents per gallon (c/gal) since 1970. Revenue from that goes into the state’s Designated General Fund, and can be used for construction and maintenance of roads and ferries. We also pay a 0.95c/gal surcharge that’s deposited into the state’s Oil and Hazardous Substance Release Prevention Fund.

Adjusted for inflation, the 8c/gal tax would balloon to 63c/gal.

From a consumer perspective, inflation significantly erodes purchasing power. That’s why the nonpartisan Tax Foundation strongly advises against raising taxes during periods of high inflation like we experienced the prior two years.

The annual rate is now a little above what was during the latter part of the past decade. But because it’s never been percentage-based, the main justification for increasing the gas tax is inflation over the past 43 years has significantly devalued the revenue collected by the state.

Alaska has the lowest gas tax in the country. The second lowest is Missouri, which at 17c/gal is a penny more than double what Alaskans pay. Texas is slightly higher at 20c/gal. The national average is 33c/gal.

Those figures show why the 2016 proposal by then-Gov. Bill Walker to raise it to 28.25c/gal was so reasonable.

But regardless of how high the taxes at the pump are, the real cost is the fuel itself. At today’s prices the current tax is less than 2%. At the amount Walker proposed it would only be 6%.

A better way to understand that is to look at monthly gas bills in real dollars.

Consider that the average Alaskan drives about 950 miles each month. If the price of gas is $4.50/gal., the monthly cost to fill the tank of a pickup getting 15 miles per gallon would be about $285. The current tax on that would only be $5.67.

That’s why the gas tax holiday proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy 18 months ago is properly called a “stunt” or “gimmick.” I chose those words because Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan used them when President Joe Biden made a similar proposal.

Of course a gas tax holiday would be worth even less for people driving more fuel-efficient vehicles. For instance, I own a hybrid that’s averaging 60 miles per gallon. If I drove 950 each month I’d spend $214 less at the pump than the pickup driver in the above example. And my monthly tax would only be $1.42.

The more important point is I’m not paying my fair share for maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges.

Neither are EV owners who drive on the same roads, but contribute nothing toward their upkeep. And the words to describe opposition to EV fees coming from some on the liberal side of the spectrum are self-serving and frivolous.

A sustainability analyst at Consumer Reports said the “added layers of cost,” like the fee in Texas, could make some consumers “shy away” from purchasing an EV. And the policy director for an environmental nonprofit in Utah argued new laws adding fees to EVs “produces fear and causes people to wonder what the next financial burden” might be.

It really comes down to simple economics. Anybody seeking to eliminate carbon emissions while driving won’t be turned off by a $200 annual fee. Especially when they’d no longer be spending $1,000 to $2,000 every year to keep the gas tank full.

Collecting fees from EV and hybrid owners won’t put a lot of money in the state treasury. But it’s easily justifiable. And to taxpayers it’s peanuts compared to all the other real costs of driving.

Legislators can make the same case for increasing the gas tax. And if they do it right it might vault them past the fear that voters will throw them out of office for raising taxes on anything.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

This screenshot of an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation map of PFAS sites in Alaska shows that contamination from so-called “forever chemicals” is observable throughout the state. (Screenshot | Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)
Opinion: More action must be taken on PFAS

Toxic forever chemicals present in high concentrations in Nikishka Bay Utility Water Supply

Logo courtesy of League of Women Voters.
League of Women Voters of Alaska: Join us in calling for campaign finance limits

The involvement of money in our elections is a huge barrier for everyday Alaskans who run for public office

Promise garden flowers are assembled for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Let’s keep momentum in the fight against Alzheimer’s

It’s time to reauthorize these bills to keep up our momentum in the fight to end Alzheimer’s and all other types of Dementia.

Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., questions Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 14 on Capitol Hill.
Opinion: Music to the ears of America’s adversaries

Russia and China have interest in seeing America’s democracy and standing in the world weakened

Dr. Sarah Spencer. (Photo by Maureen Todd and courtesy of Dr. Sarah Spencer)
Opinion: Alaskans needs better access to addiction treatment. Telehealth can help.

I have witnessed firsthand the struggles patients face in accessing addiction care

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski speaks on a range of subjects during an interview with the Juneau Empire in May 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Need for accounting and legislative oversight of the permanent fund

There is a growing threat to the permanent fund, and it is coming from the trustees themselves

(Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Imagine the cost of health and happiness if set by prescription drug companies

If you didn’t have heartburn before seeing the price, you will soon — and that requires another prescription

Mike Arnold testifies in opposition to the use of calcium chloride by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on Kenai Peninsula roads during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Peninsula Votes: Civic actions that carried weight

Watching an impressive display of testimony, going to an event, or one post, can help so many people learn about something they were not even aware of

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Helicopter fishing a detriment to fish and fishers

Proposal would prohibit helicopter transport for anglers on southern peninsula

The cover of the October 2023 edition of Alaska Economic Trends magazine, a product of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. (Image via department website)
Dunleavy administration’s muzzling of teacher pay report is troubling

Alaska Economic Trends is recognized both in Alaska and nationally as an essential tool for understanding Alaska’s unique economy

Image via weseeyou.community
5 tips for creating a culture of caring in our high schools

Our message: No matter what challenges you’re facing, we see you. We support you. And we’re here for you.

The Alaska State Capitol is photographed in Juneau, Alaska. (Clarise Larson/Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Vance’s bill misguided approach to Middle East crisis

In arguing for her legislation, Vance offers a simplistic, one-dimensional understanding of the conflict