Unexpectedly Intriguing!
29 April 2005

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Did you ever wonder how much you pay in fuel taxes each year? When the Democrat-controlled legislature of the State of Washington recently passed the largest fuel tax rate increase in the state's history, I wondered just how much more the state's residents would be paying at the pump. The calculator below, which you may modify with the appropriate federal, state or local fuel taxes for your neck of the woods, is set up with the data for what Washingtonians will be paying each year once the newly increased tax rate is fully implemented:

Driving Data
Input Data Values
Distance Driven per Year (Miles)
Your Car's Average Fuel Mileage (Miles per Gallon)
Gas Tax Rates
Fuel Tax Rate Current Tax Rate Proposed Change
Federal (Cents per Gallon)
State (Cents per Gallon)
Local (Cents per Gallon)

Estimated Annual Fuel Use
Calculated Results Values
Fuel Used per Year (Gallons)
Taxes Paid per Year
Calculated Results Current Proposed
Federal Fuel Taxes ($USD)
State Fuel Taxes ($USD)
Local Fuel Taxes ($USD)
Total Fuel Taxes ($USD)
Differences and Percentages
Calculated Results Values
Difference in Annual Gas Taxes ($USD)
Percentage Change in Annual Gas Taxes

Of Tolls and Taxes

In looking at a competing suggestion that would avoid imposing large increases upon gas taxes statewide by instead placing tolls upon access to bridges or certain roads in Washington to fund their maintenance, Josef of Josef's Public Journal argues that the distinction between tolls and taxes may be meaningless:

I think that's a GREAT idea. But, woops, isn't a gas tax another version of a toll and isn't that a scheme to move the toll booth from the highway to the gas station? Tell me if I'm onto something or not.

The difference between a tax and a toll (or user fee) is that one is compelled to pay a tax while a toll may be avoided. For example, when it comes to transportation, a toll may be easily avoided by selecting an alternate route. In Seattle, for instance, a hypothetical toll for traveling across the Alaskan Way Viaduct may be avoided by driving the city's surface streets [But what about downtown traffic and all the potholes? -ed. I didn't say it was a better option, and at least there isn't a toll, yet....]

By contrast, it is difficult to avoid a tax. Looking at transportation again, even those who don't drive cars will find themselves paying a tax on fuel consumption indirectly. This indirect taxation may take the form of the fare for a taxi, bus, train, airplane or other means of transport, a portion of which will be directed to covering the vehicle's operating expenses, which include fuel taxes. Likewise, businesses will pass along the costs they incur from their own fuel consumption (including fuel taxes), as well as the costs passed on to them by their suppliers (who are covering their own transportation expenses), to their customers. This transfer makes it nearly impossible to avoid paying fuel taxes in some fashion. And let's not forget about the government's own transportation requirements, where an individual's income, property or other taxes may be directed in some small part to filling the government's gas tanks where, you guessed it, fuel taxes get paid. It's one of those vicious cycles that never end.

Drip. Drip. Drip....

Update: Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture has a comprehensive set of links for those researching the oil and gas industries.

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