Highways require higher gas tax
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
About 10,000 motorists die each year because of inadequate road conditions, and
millions of other Americans waste large portions of their lives stuck in traffic or stalled trains. The enormous cost to society of poor infrastructure grows every year, and most of the blame can be placed directly on a Congress that refuses to collect and spend enough money to fix it.
On Tuesday the House made the situation worse with a sad excuse for a highway funding bill: A 10-month measure that keeps spending at an inadequate level and does not
address the dwindling revenues that keep producing all-too-familiar cliff-hanging crises. The bill pays for building projects through a series of budget gimmicks, including one that will probably result in companies under-financing their pensions. Yet the Obama administration, desperate to avoid the cancellation of projects that would occur if the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money next month, decided to support the stopgap bill.
This crisis was entirely foreseeable and was brought about by the ideological refusal of congressional Republicans to raise the gasoline tax — the traditional method of paying for road projects, because it allows those who benefit from better roads to pay for them. The gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, and during those 21 years it has lost 39 percent of its value to inflation. But Republicans, afraid of violating a no-tax-increase pledge they made to an extremist group, won’t touch it. “I’ve never supported raising the gas tax,” Speaker John Boehner said last week.
Without an increase, the trust fund will continually run out of money, jeopardizing one of the most basic functions of government. If the fund were allowed to run dry next month, it would cut federal transportation financing to the states by 28 percent, and slow or stop 100,000 projects that employ about 700,000 workers at the height of the construction season. That would be fine with hard-right Republicans who want Washington to get out of the transportation business and leave the states on their own; they have overseen an unprecedented 20 percent cut in construction spending over the last five or six years.
But the country could not afford a blow of that size to the economy. President Obama was right to think big last year when he proposed spending $302 billion over four years on transportation projects, but even he lacked the political courage to back a higher gas tax to pay for it, instead suggesting ending corporate tax loopholes. Last month, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., broke ranks with his party and joined Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., in calling for a 12-cent gas tax increase that would be indexed to inflation in future years.
But few other Republicans have signed on. Instead, the bill that leaders pushed through the House on Tuesday would raise most of its $10.9 billion by allowing companies to spend less on their pension payments (thus raising their taxable incomes), which could harm retirement security for many Americans. The Senate Finance Committee proposal is better, focusing instead on better tax enforcement, but it avoided the best solution of raising the gas tax in order to achieve bipartisan support.
Both bills run out at the end of May, which will probably lead to another crisis that will be temporarily solved by yet another budget gimmick. People of both parties ride in cars or take trains and buses, but they are being let down by politicians pretending that essential public works don’t come with a price tag.