Gas Taxes

“So the next time you begin to blame oil companies, speculators or service stations for high gas prices, remember that no one gets richer off of gasoline than government.”  Drew Johnson

“With the average price of gas in America hovering around $3.50 per gallon for regular unleaded, it costs more than $50 to fill a typical car’s 15-gallon tank this summer.  Why does gas cost so much?

“You may blame high gas prices on rich oil company executives or greedy gas station owners.  The truth is that governments rake in a larger profit at the pump than anyone—and with gas taxes on the rise in many parts of the country, there’s no relief in sight.

“The price of a gallon of gas is based o the combination of four costs:  that of crude oil, of refining gas, of distribution and marketing, and of taxes.

“Crude oil costs make up about 76% of the cost of gasoline, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).  Thus $2.66 of a $3.50 gallon of gasoline is set before the oil is even refined.  Global markets, reacting to supply and demand, determine the cost of crude oil.  Just like any commodity, from gold to corn, a shortage in supply or an increase in demand leads to a rise in prices.

“Refining oil is the next step in the process—and the next expense for drivers.  Gasoline is extracted from crude oil and additives, including lubricants and detergents to reduce engine deposits, are added.  As of January 2012, the EIA found that refining was responsible for 6% of the cost of gasoline.

“Distribution and marketing—the part of the process most apparent to consumers—constituted another 6% of gas prices.  That portion of the cost includes the shipping and transportation of the gasoline, a markup to cover retailers’ expenses, and any advertising created to appeal to customers.

“The remaining 12%–or almost 50 cents per gallon today—goes directly to federal, state and local governments in an array of sales and excise taxes.  The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents on every gallon of gasoline sold in America.  State gas-tax rates vary from a low of eight cents per gallon in Alaska to a jarring 49 cents per gallon in New York.  Other states where it’s steep to fill up include California and Connecticut—each with 48.6-cent-per-gallon gas taxes—and Hawaii, at 47.1 cents per gallon.

“Some local governments have gotten in on the act, too.  In California, local sales and excise taxes on gasoline average 3.1%, according to the Los Angeles Times.   That works out to about 12 cents in local taxes for each gallon of gas, based on the state’s current average of $3.80 per gallon.

“Skokie, Ill., a suburb north of Chicago, levies a gas tax of three cents per gallon.  You’ll pay an extra nickel per gallon at gas stations in Eugene, Ore.  And the next time you’re gambling in Las Vegas, you’ll need plenty of cash left over to cover Clark Country’s 10 cent local tax on a gallon of gas.  In Florida, Brevard County (home to the Kennedy Space Center) expects to siphon more than $15 million from motorists this year, according to the newspaper Florida Today.

“Put this all together, and government makes far more from gas sales than all of the oil companies put together.  Exxon, for example, made only seven cents per gallon of gasoline in 2011.  That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly 50 cents per gallon that federal, state and local governments rake in on an average gallon of gas pumped in the U.S.

“Most people have to drive—whether to work, to the grocery store, to pick up kids from school or for dozens of other reasons.  For some families struggling to make ends meet, paying 50 cents per gallon in taxes may be the difference between driving to work and putting dinner on the table.

“So the next time you begin to blame oil companies, speculators or service stations for high gas prices, remember that no one gets richer off of gasoline than government.”  Drew Johnson, The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2012, p. A13

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