National Survey: What Do Americans Think About Federal Tax Options to Support Public Transit, Highways, and Roads?

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The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San José State University, California has published the results of a national opinion poll exploring public support for various tax options to raise federal transportation revenues — with a special focus on understanding support for increasing revenues for public transit.

2016 is the seventh year of the annual survey project (MTI Project 1528.) A total of 1,503 adults completed the random telephone survey in February/March 2016. Multiple variations on raising the federal gas tax rate, creating a new mileage tax, and creating a new federal sales tax were presented to test relative support levels among the options.

Across the seven years of survey data, support for all the taxes except the flat-rate mileage tax has risen. In seven cases, support has increased by more than ten percentage points since the first year the question was asked.

The 2016 results show that a majority of Americans would support higher taxes for transportation, under certain conditions. For example, a gas tax increase of 10¢ per gallon to improve road maintenance was supported by 75% of respondents. With respect to public transit, the results show that most people want good public transit service in their state and two-thirds of respondents support spending gas tax revenues on transit.

Key 2016 findings related to increasing taxes include:

  • Of the ten transportation tax options tested, six had majority support.
  • Support levels varied considerably by the type of tax. When taxes were described with no information other than the tax type, a new sales tax was much more popular than either a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax.
  • Support for a sales tax increase has risen by 13% since 2010.
  • Linking tax increases to safety, maintenance, or environmental benefits increased support by at least ten percentage points among almost all the demographic groups tested.

Key 2016 findings specific to public transit include:

  • A large majority (82%) said that expanding and improving transit services in their states should be a high or medium government priority.
  • Only one-half of respondents knew that fares don’t cover the cost of transit, and only 29% knew of the federal government’s role in funding public transit.
  • Two-thirds supported spending current gas tax revenues on transit, although only 41% supported increasing gas taxes to improve transit.

The researchers noted that public support for higher gas taxes (or a new mileage tax) rises when: revenues are dedicated to specific purposes popular with the public; the tax increase is spread out over several years; or information is provided about how much the increase will cost drivers annually.

SOURCE: Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) Project 1528, June 2016.

Margin of error was ± 2.53 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

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