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Fix the Roads, But Don’t Ask Us to Pay for It

The Highway Trust Fund is about to go broke, again.

by on Sep.03, 2009

 61,000 miles of our National Highway System are now in poor to fair condition, 25% of bridges "structurally deficient."

About 61,000 miles of our National Highway System are in poor to fair condition.

Everyone knows what happens to a car when it runs out of fuel. Nevertheless, the same cannot be said about the Highway Trust Fund, which at current funding levels will be $17 billion short of money for the 2010 fiscal year that starts next month.

Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar’s sweeping bill to reform Transportation policy and fix the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund has been blocked by the Obama Administration, so the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, is pushing to renew the existing bill for six more years.

Virtually everyone agrees that our roads, highways and bridges need more maintenance and rebuilding, but a depressed economy and soaring budget deficits make politicians reluctant to address the problem.

In addition, the gang that lives in state along the banks of the Potomac is much better at passing out money for earmarks and pet programs, than they are at finding ways to pay for them. That’s why the Trust Fund is under funded in the first place.

The problem with renewing the existing bill is that it doesn’t contain adequate taxes to support the work required to keep roads repaired. The gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon that goes toward roads has not been raised in 15 years. And, if you’ve been driving through those years, you know what has happened to our highways. About 61,000 miles of our National Highway System are now in poor to fair condition, and 152,000 bridges – 25% — are “structurally deficient.”

Well, things could get worse. The easy political position given circumstances right now is to renew the existing law, without increasing fuel taxes.

However, the numbers do not work. An estimated $235.7 billion (FY 2010-FY 2015) will be raised, but existing transportation programs cost $326.1 billion during the same period. And this doesn’t catch up with decades of neglect.

No Potholes!

No Potholes!

The Obama Administration kicked the problem down the road as Congress recessed this summer by moving $7 billion more in funding into the Trust Fund so that it can get by for the time being.


Tax-and-drive Republicans

In a "post-partisan" era, who will lead the political fight for stiff new gas taxes?

by on Jan.21, 2009

Is it time to raise the federal fuel tax?

Is it time to raise the federal fuel tax?

So, when did so many Republicans start sounding like Democrats? I know, I know, President Obama is all about a “post-partisan” America, and it’s not uncommon to hear even the most vociferous political opponents making nicey-nice with each other in the first weeks after an inauguration. But what I’m talking about is a serious, seemingly heartfelt transformation by some of the auto industry’s most traditional members of the Grand Old Party. Like Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman. Like Michael Jackson, the CEO of retail giant AutoNation.

No, they’re not going off on gay marriage, or national day care. But they are touching upon one of the traditional “third rails” of American politics, something even the most hard-core “tax-and-spend” Democrats have largely chosen to sidestep, in recent years. And that’s the idea of a stiff, new gas tax.

Go to Europe and a good 80% of what you pay at the pump is tax, as much as $8 a gallon – at the current exchange rate – in some countries, or about 40 times what Americans pay in the federal fuel tax. And the number hasn’t changed in two decades, here at home, even though much of the world has consciously increased fuel taxes in order to discourage demand, promote the sale of fuel-efficient vehicles and, of course, balance their budgets.

There are, of course, plenty of environmentalists who’d like to see the U.S. catch up. But the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Federation aren’t going to move the political needle. If anything, it may take the loyal opposition, and the industrial side of the Republican Party seems to be rushing in to fill that gap.