Why would anyone agree to a higher tax? The most common technique is to convince enough citizens that someone else will pay for it. Vermont is happy with higher taxes when voters know they will get far more money from the federal government than they ever pay but most people are more skeptical. Social Security is always a decade away from insolvency because the money is spent right now.
And sometimes voters can be convinced that a tax on X will only be used on Y. California recently had a referendum on education funding, which was going to be narrowly applied - but politicians did not tell voters that it was going to be narrowly applied so they could use other education funding for other purposes.
So voters might accept a gas tax increase - if they can be convinced the extra revenue would improve energy efficiency, repair roads and bridges or be refunded to taxpayers equally, according to sociologists. In other words, if the public believes they can trust politicians this time.
Surveys show widespread opposition to a gas tax hike new results published in the journal Energy Policy confirmed that if the revenue use was unspecified or simply dispensed to the U.S. Treasury, the public would overwhelmingly oppose the tax increase. However, when people were told how the money would actually be spent, their views changed.
"Our results suggest that if a gasoline tax increase aims to decrease fuel consumption in a revenue-neutral manner or directs the extra revenue toward energy-efficient transportation or road and bridge repairs, then such an increase could be acceptable to the American public," said Stan Kaplowitz, who authored the paper with Aaron M. McCright.
Past research showed that while 80 percent to 90 percent of Americans were willing to pay higher prices for cars and electricity that use renewable energy, some 70 percent opposed higher taxes on gasoline and electricity.
In fact, gas tax increases were consistently the least popular option for reducing use of fossil fuels, and in the face of unsupportive surveys and polls few national politicians have taken up the cause. On a state level, Michigan voters in May soundly rejected a gas tax increase, though many said the proposal failed because it was too convoluted.
The study, which consisted of eight survey experiments comprising about 3,000 total participants, found:
*On average, people would accept (i.e., support or be neutral towards) a gas tax increase of 51 cents per gallon if the proposal was revenue-neutral, meaning any extra revenue would be refunded to taxpayers equally.
*On average, people would accept a slightly larger increase, 56 cents per gallon, if the proposal directed extra revenue toward energy-efficient transportation.
*If extra revenue were directed toward road and bridge repairs, and people were also told why current gas tax revenue is inadequate for that purpose, they would accept an average gas tax increase of 53 cents.
One thing both parties agree on; more taxes will cut usage. And that is true, when poor people can no longer afford something, less of it is used. America's drop in CO2 emissions is not just because of the increase in cleaner natural gas, it is also because 90 million people remain unemployed or underemployed, causing them to spend less money on everything. Including gas taxes.