Then-Governor Gary A. Hardee and the Legislature acknowledged the need to finance Florida’s infrastructure to accommodate the state’s booming population and tourism industry. The solution, as Hardee told policymakers, was to “ensure agencies [i.e., businesses] who largely use and benefit through the construction of highways should in large measure pay for them.” Through House Bill 702, policymakers created a dealer’s fee to sell gasoline and imposed a penny tax for every gallon of gasoline sold in the state.
The growing popularity of automobiles forced policymakers to think about how to best finance the much-needed infrastructure to accommodate tourists and residents driving in the state. The 1921 dealer’s fee and penny tax on gasoline worked: by 1924, the state’s receipts for roads surpassed total receipts for general revenue (i.e., discretionary spending dollars generated by state taxes.) However, research shows that gasoline taxes are regressive — the poorest motorists spend more to pay these taxes than wealthy drivers when measured as a percentage of personal income. In the Sunshine State, where people making low to moderate income are disproportionately Black and/or Latina/o due to generations of racism and unequal opportunities to build wealth, the gasoline tax exacerbates race and income inequality.