Even though the 6 cent-per-gallon local option gas tax won’t expire until August 2016, legislation is speeding through City Council to extend the tax for another 20 years.
The problem is the gas tax is doomed as a revenue source.
In the past decade, revenue from Jacksonville’s gas tax declined 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, even as our population and economy grew.
This trend will only accelerate with dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency and the increased use of alternative-fuel vehicles, including the mass conversion of truck fleets to natural gas.
Don’t just take my word for it.
Gov. Rick Scott’s Department of Transportation secretary, Ananth Prasad, has repeatedly declared the gas tax is unsustainable as a transportation funding source.
So what do we do?
First, let’s be clear about what we should not do.
We should not rush to make a 20-year commitment to an unsustainable revenue source, nor should we take on a huge debt load expecting the gas tax will pay it back.
We should not be promising a bevy of transportation projects that may well end up like nicely wrapped but empty boxes under a Christmas tree, just like so many projects promised under previous gas tax levies and the Better Jacksonville Plan.
Some of those previously promised but never-delivered projects are on the current wish list — with much higher price tags.
What we should do in the 27 months remaining before the gas tax expires is to have a thoughtful community conversation about how best to finance our transportation priorities.
We should appoint a community task force with a diverse group of leaders representing businesses and employees, drivers and pedestrians, bus riders and road builders, developers and environmentalists, truckers and bicyclists, neighborhoods and Downtown.
The task force should hold public hearings to get broad community input, solicit ideas from transportation professionals and public finance experts and investigate what other cities and states are doing to fund their transportation needs.
There are many financing options to consider — from taxes on alternative fuels to dedicated sales-tax revenue for transportation projects, to public-private partnerships, to a vehicle miles-traveled fee that charges users based on the number of miles they drive.
The gas tax is quickly becoming extinct. Our funding methods must evolve.
Let’s take the time we have to find out how Jacksonville can best secure its transportation future.