Gas tax hike? Relax, you won't feel a thing

Written by Jon Schmitz on .

gaspumpThe transportation funding legislation that appears headed for final passage in Harrisburg would raise the state’s gasoline tax for the first time since 1997.

Because the increase will be applied at the wholesale level, it will be next to impossible for drivers to know how much of an impact it has on pump prices. Much more powerful forces than taxation drive the pump price up and down, including the machinations of oil sheiks, production issues, weather and good old supply and demand.

In the last two years, with no changes in federal or state taxes, the average price of a gallon of gas in Pennsylvania has fluctuated by more than $1, according to

Assuming that wholesalers pass every last red cent of their tax increase on to consumers — and experts say that is far from certain — drivers on Jan. 1 would be paying 9.5 cents more per gallon. For a driver who travels 12,000 miles a year in a 24 mpg vehicle, that would add $47.50 to his or her annual gasoline cost, or less than a buck a week.

At the current per-gallon price, the tax increase is less than 3 percent. That’s less than 3 percent in tax increases over a 17-year span. If your boss made you work without a raise for 17 years, then handed you a 3 percent bump, you wouldn’t be turning cartwheels over his generosity.

But that’s what Pennsylvanians are doing for their employee, PennDOT.

Pennsylvania’s current tax of 32.3 cents is 15th-highest in the nation; assuming no other state raises taxes next year, Pennsylvania would rise to No. 5. That's hardly out of line for the state that is No. 1 in structurally deficient bridges.

Looking farther down the road, two more wholesale gas tax increases are scheduled: 9.7 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, 2015, and at least 8 cents (but maybe more) on Jan. 1, 2017. Small rollbacks will occur for 2016 and possibly for 2018.

Currently, the wholesale tax is applied only to the first $1.25 of the price of a gallon. The legislation slowly removes that cap between Jan. 1, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2017. After that, gasoline will be taxed at the full wholesale price, meaning taxes will rise and fall each year based on market changes.

The gas tax is the biggest driver in the transportation bill, which is projected to raise $2.3 billion a year for roads, bridges, public transit and other modes by 2018. That is just a bit less than the amount of money gambled away at Pennsylvania’s casinos during the last fiscal year.


We don’t have the numbers yet, but Port Authority officials say their analysis of the transportation bill signals a long period of financial stability — at least five years and possibly a decade. We may even see some additional service on routes that have been overcrowded since the 2011 cuts. Oh, how we’ll miss those biennial financial distress calls.


Friday will bring the 53rd annual Light Up Night festivities to Downtown Pittsburgh. Friday’s Post-Gazette will have a rundown of street closings, but we can summarize it here — if you are anywhere near Downtown in a motor vehicle after dark, there’s a good chance you’ll spend time in gridlock.


menatworkJust in: PennDOT will open the new Route 28 ramps to the 31st Street Bridge at about 9 a.m. Monday. That end of the bridge has been closed since 2010 for construction of a grade-separated interchange.

From our PennDOT friends to the north: Traffic patterns returned to normal this week on westbound Interstate 80 in Jefferson County. The single-lane restrictions that were in place have been lifted between Exit 86 (Reynoldsville) and Exit 97 (Falls Creek). The project will resume in the spring.

Inbound Route 28 will be down to one lane from the former Millvale Industrial Park to East Ohio Street starting at 8 p.m. today. Restriction lifts by 6 a.m. Friday.

A reminder that the Pennsylvania Turnpike will be closed in both directions between Allegheny Valley and Butler Valley from 11:59 p.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday for bridge demolition.
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