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  • Writer's pictureKerry O'Hare

100 Years Later

Updated: Mar 22, 2019

2019 marks a momentous 100-year anniversary. Can you guess what it might be?

Congratulations to those of you who guessed that it is the 100th anniversary of the first gas tax in America.

As automobile use began to expand in the early 20th century, governments struggled to build and pay for roads. It wasn't until the federal government began providing matching funds to states to build roads in 1916 that states began to get more serious about how to pay for their growing needs. But is still took a few more years before the first state took action and passed the first gas tax.

The state with the distinction of being first is Oregon when it approved a one cent tax on gasoline in February of 1919. Three other states - North Dakota, New Mexico and Colorado - soon followed that same year. And within the next 10 years, all 48 states approved a gas tax. However, it wasn't until 1932 that the federal government adopted its own one cent gas tax.

It's now 87 years later and the federal gas tax has only increased by 17 cents. The last increase was over a quarter decade ago in 1993. Over that time the price of everything has increased except the gas tax which remains at 18 cents per gallon. This is a key reason why the nation's Highway Trust Fund is careening towards bankruptcy - again.

While policymakers in Washington have struggled to address the growing infrastructure gap (the American Society of Civil Engineers pegs the gap to be over $2 trillion) between needs and investments, states have stepped up to address their own growing funding challenges. Since 2013, 27 states have approved increases to their own gas taxes. These actions have taken place in blue (Maryland and California) and red (Georgia and Wyoming) states alike. In fact, Alabama's Republican Governor Kay Ivey signed a 10-cent increase into law earlier this month.

So, on this 100th anniversary let's reflect on how states continue to lead the way on policy issues big and small - including infrastructure. It's time for their federal partners in Washington to follow their lead and approve legislation to modernize America's infrastructure.

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