Recently there has been a lot of digital ink spilled here on the subject of gas taxes and the 18th amendment. Outgoing Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed a wholesale motor vehicle fuel excise tax to help pay for school buses. This times article focuses mostly who would pay the tax, consumers or producers*, and whether or not it’s a good idea to use the gas tax to pay for school buses when there are other transportation needs.
I don’t have especially strong opinions on whether school buses should be funded with the gas tax. However, one topic the times article does not mention is the 18th amendment. Nor do any of the other other discussions of the idea. I asked the Governor’s Office if they have considered whether this proposal would violate the 18th amendment. They said they had considered it, and decided the proposal likely would not. Now, whole sale motor vehicle fuel excise taxes are pretty much exactly the sort of taxes the 18th amendment is about: “all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington on the sale, distribution or use of motor vehicle fuel“. It does follow that if gas taxes can pay for school buses, then gas taxes can pay for virtually any transportation project. Both Metro buses and Link carry Seattle public school children, for example.
Now I don’t think this will pass the two-thirds requirements in the state legislature, so we probably will never know whether this would have actually been constitutional. But my point is there are a lot of ways pass this 18th amendment hurdle, and there’s starting to be some talk of raising new revenues from a gas tax. Let’s see if we can get some of that money for transit.
* This is an econ 101 question, and the answer is both, but the degree depends on the price elasticity of demand.