Could State Create Its Own Gas-Guzzler Tax To Fill Budget Shortfall?

Drivers of large trucks and SUVs could end up helping Texas erase the state's multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. One of the latest ideas being talked about in Austin is a possible surcharge to new vehicles that don't meet federal fuel economy standards. This comes as the state battles with the EPA over who has the authority to regulate emissions from the state's largest polluters. And, as David Pitman reports, the irony isn't lost on environmentalists.

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Matthew Tejada is the executive director of Houston Air Alliance.   He says for years, the state has claimed it couldn't do anything about vehicles that use more fuel and produce more pollution because that's the territory of the federal government.

"But here comes a big budget deficit, and all the sudden, the impossible becomes not only possible, but really quite easy, maybe — that we can slap a surcharge or a 'truck tax' on vehicles that have very low fuel efficiencies, that don't meet the CAFE standards."

The CAFE standards Tejada refers to means Corporate Average Fuel Economy.  For trucks, the average is 23.5 miles per gallon.  A joint state House and Senate committee recommends adding a $100 surcharge to the purchase price trucks and SUVs that fall short of the average.  The Government Effectiveness and Efficiency Report says that could raise tens of millions of dollars to help reduce pollution and to comply with federal air quality standards.  But Tejada is skeptical whether the money would actually be used that way.

"Fees that the state is already collecting that are supposed to go towards clean-air efforts are on the table to be pulled into general revenue.  So, I find it very hard to believe the state would institute a new fee structure, especially one that's taxing people for the vehicles they purchase, and that wouldn't get pulled into general revenue."

Tejada says he'd prefer a hike in the gasoline tax.  He says that would be a better to raise more revenue, change consumer behavior, and reduce pollution.  Right now, the idea for a truck and SUV surcharge is only that, an idea.  No bill has yet been introduced to make it happen during this session.

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David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...