This morning in a “straight news” segment, Fox News aired the following graphic supposedly showing “Taxes At The Pump”:
There are several reasons why this graphic does more to confuse than to inform. First, Fox double-counted state taxes. They included the average state tax of about 23 cents per gallon both in the category “state” taxes and in the category “state & local” taxes. The total of both state and local taxes is 30.4 cents on average. Fox also placed $3.83 at the bottom, as if taxes are in addition to the price for gasoline. But the $3.83 figure already includes the taxes.
And in a continuing struggle with the concept of scale, Fox's three tax figures appear about 70 percent as large as the $3.83 displayed underneath, when mathematically they're less than 20 percent (and that's without correcting for the double-counted state taxes).
Fixing these problems, you would get a chart that looks more like this:
It's also worth noting that those fuel taxes are the lowest among wealthy nations. As The Economist has noted, our relatively tiny gas taxes are one reason we're so vulnerable to price spikes:
The low cost of petrol encourages greater dependence; the average American uses much more oil per day than other rich world citizens. This dependence also impacts infrastructure investment choices, leading to substantially more spending on highways than transit alternatives. And this, in turn, reduces the ability of American households to substitute away from driving when oil prices rise.
What's more, the price we pay at the pump does not cover the actual costs that arise from gasoline production and use, such as the health impacts from air pollution, damages due to climate change, spills like the BP disaster in 2010 and the military investment in protecting oil supply.