Gas Tax Booster
A Connecticut resident argues for raising gas taxes, largely to help battle climate change and help the environment.
Earlier this year, a tornado ripped through southern Connecticut, narrowly missing my parents’ house and shearing rows of the heavy oak trees that lined their street.
My two brothers live near San Francisco, and like many Californians they are struggling to breathe due to some of the largest and deadliest forest fires California has known.
Puerto Rico, for years my family’s winter escape, was devastated a year and a half ago by Hurricane Maria.
I thought that the increasing frequency and intensity of climate-influenced events would make it clear that climate change was real and costly, yet there are still those who deny it and many more who are complacent.
How real does it have to get? Our recent gubernatorial election focused more time and interest on taxes and tolls than on climate change. These issues are not unrelated.
Connecticut currently has no tolls, and the gas taxes do not cover the full cost of maintaining the roads. This means Connecticut residents are subsidizing driving, which is doing irreparable harm to the environment, with general tax dollars.
As the United Nations report on climate change states, and as the White House report on climate change reinforces, we have 12 years to make large reductions in fossil fuel consumption, or everyone still alive in 30 years will be living in a world with catastrophic environmental issues.
Raising gas taxes can decrease climate change. It makes even those who have no interest in their carbon footprint active participants in the solution. Higher prices cause people to make better decisions about minimizing fuel use, whether through combining errands, utilization of public transportation or ride sharing.
One immediate effect of higher fuel prices is that people will choose to drive the vehicle that gets better mileage and leave the gas guzzler sitting in the driveway.
Raising gas prices also encourages innovation. As a carpenter, I am very aware that some businesses require heavy vehicles that consume more gas. Automobile companies are just beginning to make hybrid pickups and eco-diesels for this work. Car manufacturers are now making long-term plans to transition to electric vehicles. Appropriately, high gas prices will speed the development of these innovations.
I propose not increasing the overall tax burden on the poor but shifting it so that the government is no longer subsidizing fuel consumption and encouraging environmentally detrimental behavior. The increased revenue from tolls and gas taxes could be used to reduce the crushing property taxes in our cities. Making cities more livable would also reduce the need for driving.
When taxes are raised on actions that should be discouraged, such as energy use, they can be lowered on things that should be encouraged, such as employment and housing. It is time our tax structure encourages a way of living that ensures future generations will have a world worth living in.
The struggle to pay at the pump pales in comparison to what we will be facing in 30 years if we do nothing. Everyone, including those living paycheck to paycheck, will be better off paying more at the pump than the alternatives people will be facing, such as relocating out of Florida because it is underwater, fleeing the arid west because of fires and lack of drinking water, or paying to build levees around New York, Philadelphia and Washington.
There are many ways Connecticut’s government must address CO2 emissions, from power generation to farming. I have specifically addressed the gas tax because transportation is responsible for a third of the CO2 produced and is something in which we all participate.
Would you rather pay more at the pump or have the hurricanes that batter our shores every year increase in intensity due to warmer oceans? How many people need to go through the trauma of relocating and rebuilding before we act to reduce the effects of climate change?
The scientists have done their job and made clear the need for the reduction in CO2 emissions. It’s our duty as citizens to push our leaders to improve the tax design and incentives so that Connecticut halves its fossil fuel use and mitigates the devastating effects of climate change.
Daniel Knudsen is a Cheshire resident and an independent carpenter.
Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman pumped gas on Farmington Avenue in Hartford in March 1992. He was pumping gas to show that support of higher gas taxes would cost taxpayers and drivers.