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The Political Economy of Motor-Fuel Taxation

This paper examines the political and economic underpinnings of gasoline tax policy. The theoretical model extends the earlier work of Hettich and Winer (1988) to flush out the effect of a change in the pre-tax price of a taxable activity on the politically optimal tax rate. Using a large cross-sectional sample of U.S. states over 1960-94, the empirical model tests the predictions of the theoretical model within the context of the state tax policy on gasoline. While simultaneously controlling for other politico-economic influences, we find that the influence of changes in gas prices on tax rates is negative. To our knowledge, this is the first study to include a fully developed theoretical model and its empirical application to the gasoline market for a test of the votemaximizing model of tax policy.

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Energy Specializations: Petroleum – Markets and Prices for Crude Oil and Products; Petroleum – Policy and Regulation

JEL Codes:
L13 - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets
E60 - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook: General

Keywords: gasoline tax, tax policy, US, gasoline prices

DOI: 10.5547/ISSN0195-6574-EJ-Vol20-No1-3

Published in Volume20, Number 1 of The Quarterly Journal of the IAEE's Energy Economics Education Foundation.