It’s complicated: a look at gas taxes

Published 5:43 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019

As the city begins to look closer at raising its gas tax, and the state is almost certain to do the same, it’s more important than ever that those in positions of leadership take a hard look at the toll those increases will take on the average consumer – the one driving to work, the one driving kids to school, the one who will inevitably bear the weight of these costs.

As is generally the case in Alabama and across the nation, citizens will be asked to carry the burden of funding improvements, in this case ostensibly for infrastructure, while those most able to handle it look on with little worry, and those responsible with handling the situation take the easy way out – tax those least able to afford it.

With the state poised to increase gas taxes by as much as 12-cents, and the city angling to raise gas taxes by 5-cents, the citizens of Selma will be asked to pay an additional 17-cents at the pump.

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By that measure, a consumer buying 10 gallons of gas per week will pay an additional $1.70, just over $88 per year. While that may not seem like much, the Census Bureau tells us the median household income in Selma is around $23,000, which means that the increase in gas taxes alone would cost the average Selma citizen almost 0.4 percent of their annual income.

This number does not even take into account the actual price of gas, but for argument sake, we’ll address that math as well. If the price of gas is $2 per gallon before the new taxes, residents are spending $20 for 10 gallons per week, or $1,040 annually; add to that the $88 the new tax will bring and the total comes to $1,128, nearly 5 percent of the average citizen’s income.

If a citizen purchases more than 10 gallons of gas per week, the percentage of their annual income spent fueling their vehicle only increases – at 20 gallons per week the average citizen would be spending close to 10 percent of their annual income on gas.

However, that’s just one side of the argument – the flipside is the realization that Selma desperately needs new revenue to begin solving the myriad of problems currently plaguing it, an aging and overworked infrastructure being only one of them.

City officials say the funds generated from the new local tax, around $1.8 million annually, would be used to float a $25 million bond, which will be enough to do all the work necessary to repair all of the city’s infrastructure concerns – patching potholes, repaving streets, repairing sewage pipes and more.

It’s complicated, to say the least, because the city most assuredly needs an influx of funds, but the people can scarcely afford to lose another cent of their own – neither of these assertions can be argued.

I urge Selma’s city council members, who will be taking a vote on the ordinance to raise the gas tax in two weeks, to weigh these two facts out and act in what they believe is the city’s best interest.

Their task is not enviable, as they have the job of working to improve the city and improve the lives of the people who call it home, but we can all expect that they will vote their conscience and, in two weeks, we will see if prices are going up at the pump or if local leaders are going back to the drawing board.