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Framing The Gas Tax Question

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Traditionally, America's transportation system has been paid for by gasoline taxes, but those taxes have not kept pace with increases in costs or the growth of vehicle miles traveled. The result the national Highway Trust Fund, which gets 90 percent of its funds from gasoline taxes, faces a deficit of as much as $2.3 trillion in the next 25 years.

A new study by the University of Vermont Transportation Research Center attempts to fathom why raising taxes has become so difficult by studying the debates that surrounded proposed gas tax increases in Idaho, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont between 2006 and 2009.

"Gasoline Taxes: An Examination of News Media Discourse Related to Gas Tax Funding Debates in Six States" focused on how newspapers framed their coverage of the debates.

"Framing is the process of collecting pieces of perceived reality and assembling a narrative that connects those pieces to promote a particular interpretation," the study explains.

Supporters of increasing taxes framed the debate around crumbling infrastructure, economic progress and the need for a long-term solution, while opponents relied on general anti-tax sentiment, the need to cut wasteful programs first and the potential impact increasing taxes would have on the economy.

"In this study, the focus on state gas-tax news media discourse may provide information to national policy-makers as the debate over how to fund the next federal transportation law continues," the report concludes. "The data suggests that in the states where the news discourse emphasized either crumbling infrastructure or economic progress there was a corresponding success in the policy domain for pro-gas tax policy-makers."

This report has been added to the Best Practices.

Gasoline Taxes: An Examination of News Media Discourse Related to Gas Tax Funding Debates in Six States