Would a gas tax hike really save you money?
Gov. Deval Patrick implied last week that Massachusetts drivers could save money in the long run if the state gasoline tax was increased by 19 cents, but don't bet on it.
Patrick estimated that his gas tax increase would cost drivers an extra $500 million a year, but he pointed out that the state's poor roads were costing drivers $718 millon a year in extra vehicle operating costs. According to the math, Massachusetts drivers as a group would stand to save about $218 million a year — if the extra money from the gas tax is used to repair the state's roads.
It's a novel argument, and one that draws heavily from a 2008 report issued by a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization called TRIP, which is sponsored by road construction companies, labor unions, and insurance companies, among other groups.
One problem: Relatively little of Patrick's proposed gas tax increase would actually go to repair roads and bridges. About 16 cents of the 19-cent increase would go for non-highway projects, including the MBTA and commuter rail (6 cents), a rollback of toll increases on the Massachusetts Turnpike (4 cents); other rail projects (3 cents); and a plan and to clean up the financing of the state highway department and explore alternatives to the gas tax (3 cents).
TRIP said in its report that it calculated a state's total vehicle operating costs by multiplying the average number of miles driven by standard vehicle operating costs (generated by the American Automobile Association). Each state's additional vehicle operating costs were calculated by running those numbers through a model which assumes that deteriorated roads accelerate the pace of depreciation of vehicles, and that the need for auto repairs increases in proportion to the level of roughness of the pavement surface.
The model also assumes that tire wear and fuel consumption increase as roads deteriorate, "since there is less efficient transfer of power to the drive train and additional friction between the road and the tires.No state's roads are perfect, according to the TRIP research. Moretti said that Massachusetts ranks 27th in the nation in terms of additional vehicle operating costs. The state with the most additional vehicle operating costs is California at $13.3 billion, followed by Texas, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Connecticut ranked 22d, at $845 million.
The state with the lowest additional vehicle operating costs was Wyoming, at $99 million, edging out Montana, North Dakota, and Delaware. The other New England states — Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont — were all on the lower end of the spectrum.