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Over 30 million Americans will take to the roads this Memorial Day weekend, and it’s all but guaranteed that many of them will be unhappy about the price of gas.  But while it’s easy to get frustrated by high prices at the pump, it’s also important that motorists realize gas taxes are not to blame for those high prices, and that gas taxes are absolutely essential to the safety and efficiency of the infrastructure we use everyday.

As the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) explains in a pair of new policy briefs, federal and state gas taxes are the main sources of funding for the roads, bridges, and transit systems that keep our economy moving (and that make our summer vacations possible).  Roughly 90 percent of federal transportation revenues come from the federal gas tax, while state gas taxes are the single most important source of transportation revenue under the control of state lawmakers.

Moreover, the amount of money we’re spending on gas taxes is much lower than what we used to pay. Families today are spending a smaller share of their household budgets on gas taxes than they have in about three decades—and that share is continuing to decline.

Of course, a low gas tax has a cost.  The federal government is increasingly using borrowed money to pay for our roads and bridges, while states that lack the luxury of borrowing are taking money away from education and other priorities in order to fund basic road repairs.  Meanwhile, even with these infusions of cash, the condition of our transportation infrastructure is continuing to decline.

ITEP’s new policy briefs put this issue into perspective by explaining how gas taxes work, their importance as a transportation revenue source, the specific problems confronting gas taxes, and the types of gas tax reforms that are needed to overcome these problems.

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Photo of man pumping gas via Teresia Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0