In his lame duck year, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) wants to try again—suggesting that lawmakers try to increase the gas tax for the first time since the early 1990s.
What if that happened?
How much gas tax would it take?
And perhaps most importantly—what would it cost you?
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Even though all new taxes require a statewide vote of the people, lawmakers have been unable to agree on a plan to send to the ballot.
The governor signaled that he’s open to whatever ideas the legislature might have, but he only mentioned one tax by name in his speech: the gas tax.
IT WOULD TAKE A BIG INCREASE
The gas tax in Colorado has been 22 cents per gallon for decades.
The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates it needs about $1 billion more per year to fully fund the state’s construction needs—a figure that’s been used as a talking point by leaders from both major parties.
Using the most current financial data on the gas tax revenues from CDOT, we can calculate that the gas tax would need to increase to 56.9 cents per gallon, assuming that people bought the same amount of gas at the higher price.
That’s a 156 percent increase. It would make Colorado’s gas tax the highest in the nation, a few cents more than drivers pay in Pennsylvania.
DIFFERENT DRIVERS WOULD PAY DIFFERENT AMOUNTS
According to federal data, the average driver in Colorado drives 13,688 miles per year and buys about 513 gallons of gas to do it, which means the most extraordinarily average driver in Colorado gets a little better than 26 MPG in fuel economy.
The new tax above would cost that person $179 per year in new taxes.
But if you give that same person a brand-new hybrid like the 2018 Toyota Prius, which gets 52 MPG—and the tax increase is substantially less: about $92/year.
If that same person drives an old pickup that gets 15 MPG, they pay a lot more: a $318 tax increase.
And if you drive an all-electric car, you’d wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, people who don’t buy gas do not pay any gas tax.
That hints at a long-term existential problem with the gas tax, though the proposed fixes like pay-per-mile are also controversial.
Everyone would get different value out of this, which in theory would at least correspond to how much you drive.
Improved road surfaces put less wear and tear on your car. Added traffic lanes will reduce time-wasting traffic.
But like the gas tax itself, it affects different people to different degrees depending on where they drive.
And with Colorado’s population continuing to grow by more than 200 people each day, it’s becoming a more pressing issue all the time.
It would take a big increase in the gas tax to fully fund CDOT’s list of needed projects—and it would affect every driver’s wallet differently.
If a deal comes out of the legislature, expect lawmakers to do a lot of negotiating and likely come out with a compromise plan.
And any deal that does get done would require voters to approve it in the November election.