Stephens Media columnist Steve Brawner takes a look at the declining revenues coming in from federal (and state) taxes to pay for America's highway network.
Originally devised as a user tax, the federal gasoline tax intended to meet the costs associated with building and maintaining the country's interstate system.
Declining tax revenues — from better gas mileage vehicles — and rising costs of highway construction have thrown the payment system out of balance.
This is one of those issues that doesn’t have an easy answer, so members of Congress understandably have put off asking the question. Raising the gas tax at a time when drivers already are mad about high prices at the pump is seen as political suicide, so nobody wants to do that. Moreover, many Republican members of Congress, including all of Arkansas’, have signed a pledge not to increase taxes without finding an offset somewhere else. That’s hard to do when the government already is borrowing 42 cents of every dollar it spends.
As in other
areas of our national life, Americans are getting more government than they are paying for, so choices have to be made.
One part of the solution is creating a more efficient highway funding system, which Congress’ recently passed highway bill does by reducing bureaucratic waste such as unnecessary environmental reviews. It also encourages public-private partnerships, which means big contractors rather than big government would be responsible for building and maintaining some highway miles. More roads of the future might be funded through tolls, which are not as efficient as taxes, but public-private partnerships also might unlock more creative solutions, such as more lanes available only to carpoolers.
Will these solutions be enough? Are there other options to consider?
Brawner addresses those questions in the remainder of his column, which you can read here.