Periodically there is discussion in the comments about the price of gasoline versus diesel, the differences in costs between various locales, and mention of fuel prices in the United States generally being lower than elsewhere in the world.
There are many factors contributing to the prices seen at the pump – pipeline price, transportation costs, and blend are just a few components. The element of fuel tax rarely has any mention. So let’s take a look at various fuel tax rates. They do have a distinct influence on the pump price.
This overview is not intended to be all encompassing nor is it intended to be political in any way. Rather, it is simply shining a light onto an otherwise rarely considered factor leading to what we all pay.
The United States
The United States Energy Information Administration reports the federal excise tax is $0.184 per gallon for gasoline and $0.244 per gallon for diesel. That is charged for every gallon pumped at any station within the United States.
Incidentally, this money is collected to help fund highway construction and maintenance around the country. The formula has been hotly contested at times as some states are donors while others are recipients; in other words, funds generated from within any given state don’t necessarily stay there.
In addition to the federal excise tax on fuel, each state then imposes its own fuel tax. While end use varies drastically by state, this money often goes toward highway construction and maintenance. Highways are like children – expensive every step of the way, from design to construction to maintenance. For instance, one can figure a 1″ thick layer of asphalt roadway one lane wide and one mile long will generally cost $55,000 in the Midwest. But this factoid is fodder for a future discussion.
The average of all state fuel taxes on gasoline is $0.2976 per gallon and $0.3178 per gallon of diesel fuel. There is a wide variety of tax rates and methodologies when examining each state individually.
For readers outside the United States, please keep in mind each state has a significant degree of autonomy; driver’s licenses, voter registration, vehicle sales tax, and a number of other issues are regulated by the states, not the federal government. To ensure insight along with brevity, discussion is being limited to locations in which various contributors live. This will work to give a decent cross-section of approaches.
It seems the citizens of the great State of Missouri are vehemently opposed to gasoline taxes, as the rate has remained unchanged since approximately 1996 and is the second lowest in the nation. The gasoline tax here is $0.1742 per gallon. Only Alaska is lower at $0.1466
We inhabitants of the Show-Me State are a consistent bunch, as the excise tax on diesel is $0.1744 per gallon – the lowest in the nation. It, too, has remained unchanged since 1996.
In a seeming contrast, Missouri has the seventh largest state highway system in the nation and is ranked third highest in total disbursements per mile as well as having the third most effective state DOT. Missouri is also fifth best for rural arterial pavement condition, with routes such as Missouri Route 8 and 19 being likely candidates. Not bad for the chasm which exists between funding and size of the system.
Virginia is fairly similar to our next state, seen below, as the gas tax in Virginia is thirty-ninth highest at $0.2195 per gallon. Diesel doesn’t drastically differ, ranking thirty-fifth, at $0.2471 per gallon according to the Institute on Transportation and Economic Policy. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reports diesel fuel tax as being $0.202 per gallon. Please note there have been a few instances of minor discrepancies in reported tax rates; part of that could be attributed to planned tax increases and dates of reporting.
Like Missouri, Virginia has a larger state owned highway system than most would imagine. Virginia has the third largest system in the nation, ranking sixth lowest in urban fatality rate among the states.
Colorado has the 38th highest gasoline tax (or the 12th lowest, if you prefer) at an even $0.22 per gallon. Diesel is also on the low end, being the 5th lowest at $0.205 per gallon.
Interestingly, the State of Colorado posts monthly fuel consumption within the state – presumably the compilation of motor fuel sales. In March 2020 there were 49,571,350 gallons of diesel consumed along with 142,953,000 gallons of gasohol and 19,400,000 gallons of gasoline.
From what can be determined, the excise tax on gasohol is the same as it is for diesel fuel.
The state highway system in Colorado is the twenty-ninth largest and is ranked forty-seventh best in rural interstate condition.
Like Missouri, Oregon is consistent in ranking of fuel sales tax. Oregon has the thirteenth highest gasoline tax at $0.36 per gallon with diesel being fourteenth highest at the same $0.36.
Of the states examined, Oregon has a novel approach to taxation on the local level. This is because Oregon has thirty-three cities and counties levying a local fuel tax. Most, such as Eugene, have a flat rate, with Eugene’s being $0.05 per gallon. Some, such as the Cities of Newport and Woodburn, have variable fuel tax rates with greater rates during specific months of the year. These local tax rates range from $0.01 (when in effect) in Washington County to a consistent $0.10 in Portland. This is an excellent example of how comparing fuel prices between two different cities can be an inadvertent comparison between two highly dissimilar things.
For perspective Oregon has the 33rd largest state highway system and is the 9th best in the nation for rural arterial pavement condition; in other words, long two-lane highways in rural areas with Oregon Route 126 between Eugene and Redmond likely being a prime candidate for that classification.
Oregon was the first state in the nation to impose a fuel tax, doing so in 1919.
Intrigued yet? In case you hadn’t noticed, these states have been placed in ascending order of tax rate. The Hoosier State has fuel taxes that are less straight-forward to calculate than the other states seen thus far. How so? According to the American Petroleum Institute, Indiana is one of seven states that charges sales tax on top of the basic excise tax. From what could be deciphered from the State of Indiana’s website, this sales tax is calculated monthly, using the average pump price plus flat rate excise tax, the sum of which is then subjected to the sales tax rate.
Other sources have boiled this down to a number somehow. As per the American Petroleum Institute, Indiana has the sixth highest rate in the nation for gasoline at $0.4662; the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy has Indiana’s diesel tax pegged at $0.4900, a figure credited to the American Petroleum Institute. Methodology on how this number is derived is not outlined, creating author speculation if it was calculated over a certain period of time or by some other approach.
Since fuel tax is generally tied to the highway system, I have also been offering the relative size of each state’s state owned highway system, with Indiana having the twenty-third largest. Indiana’s rural and urban interstate pavement condition is ranked as being forth-third best (or seventh worst) in the nation.
Like Indiana, Illinois also utilizes a sales tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. Thus, this variable rate is equally challenged to define as a set number.
However, using the same source for Illinois as was used for Indiana, Illinois has the third highest gasoline tax in the nation at $0.5498 per gallon. Diesel fuel does not rank as high for Illinois, being eleventh highest at $0.3902 per gallon.
Of the fifty states, Illinois has the eleventh largest state highway system, is forty-second in total disbursements per mile, and is third in rural arterial pavement condition. Likely candidates for that category might be Illinois Route 3 or 127.
Which state has the highest fuel taxes? California. Gasoline tax is reported as being $0.6102 per gallon with diesel at $0.8583 as per the American Petroleum Institute.
This is where units of volume come into play. Canada, like the vast majority of the planet, uses the metric system for fuel quantity. Their standard volume is a liter (or litre) which is just under one-third the volume of a gallon. The fuel tax in Ontario doesn’t sound too bad in raw figure form; it is $0.147 for gasoline and $0.143 for diesel. This is on top of the national $0.10 and $0.04, respectively, along with the 5% federal tax and 13% Ontario fuel tax. This provincial rate of $0.147 for gasoline equates to $0.5413 per gallon. But this is Canada dollars, which translates to $0.40 as of July 17.
In addition, there is a carbon tax of $0.0663 for gasoline and $0.0805 for diesel.
There are 10,300 miles of provincial owned and maintained highways in Ontario.
Finding the rate of fuel taxes for some countries has proven to be difficult. The U.S. Department of Energy, in a March 2019 report, outlined the fuel tax rates, given in units of U.S. dollars per gallon, for a number of countries, thus why a number of countries are being presented simultaneously (Canada and Ontario provincial were relatively easy, so it was presented independently). This report can be found here.
For simplicity, as well as for providing a better visual, here are some countries with contributors and/or frequent commenters. All values have been pulled from the website linked in the prior paragraph.
One note of caution about this information. In researching specific places, such as the United Kingdom, one needs to be aware there is a value added tax (VAT) along with periodic road user taxes. Those from the United Kingdom (and elsewhere) could elaborate further, but whether or not these costs are rolled into the costs shown here has not been determined. However, the basic premise of the VAT is not unlike what is found in Indiana and Illinois.
Hopefully this helps shine some light on the wide variety of fuel taxes and fuel tax methodologies around the globe. In this research several distinct items have been learned – there are countless ways to tax fuel along with discovering Brazil, Indonesia, and Russia have lower fuel taxes than does the United States.
Plus one thing is a near guarantee – many of those reading this will now be thinking about the amount of tax they are paying during their next stop at the service station.