Roads and bridges won't pay for themselves

Link to article here.

How many times have we heard this false choice? It's either gas tax hike or more toll taxes (always the expectation is more money out of our pockets), not spend our existing taxes wisely and stop diverting our road taxes to transit and rail and projects drivers don't benefit from. Taxpayers aren't stupid, they aren't going to give irrepsonsible politcians permission to raid our wallets even more.

Roads and bridges won't pay for themselves
August 10, 2014
Wisconsin State Journal editorial

Americans want good roads and bridges but don’t want to pay for them, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll on transportation.

No surprise there.

Of course smooth roads and sturdy bridges are popular. Of course taxes and toll roads are not.

That’s why we need leaders in Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin to make tough yet necessary decisions.

Congress just failed — again — to show leadership on America’s transportation demands. It slapped a $10.8 billion patch on the nation’s Highway Trust Fund, which is teetering on insolvency and will need more money by May.

Congress’ stopgap measure did little more than tweak the rules for private-sector pensions, pretending that saves money.

In reality, it just pushes more cost and risk into the future and doesn’t come close to fixing a gaping hole in the highway fund that, in recent years, has climbed to more than $50 billion.

Congress pushing the problem to next spring is like a road crew filling a pot hole on a crumbling road — for the umpteenth time — that long ago needed rebuilding and expansion.

Our leaders at the statehouse in Madison aren’t doing much better. Gov. Scott Walker and Co. borrowed more than $1 billion in the state budget to Band-Aid the problem and try to survive another election.

At both the state and national levels, the solution is pretty simple: Raise more revenue to pay for more expensive roads, bridges, rail and transit. Where should that money come from?

Only 14 percent of respondents in the AP-GfK poll supported raising the gas tax. Yet the federal government’s 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993. Wisconsin’s 32.9 cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 2006.

Surely our politicians and the most of the public grasp that costs have risen over the last two decades, along with traffic. If we want good roads, bridges and public transportation, we need to pay for it, rather than passing the cost on to our kids.

If the public doesn’t want a higher gas tax, then it needs to accept tolls or some other source of increased revenue. Or it needs to stop driving so much. But as of this spring, total traffic volume is up, compared to a year ago.

Unfortunately, the AP-GfK poll suggests the public is opposed to more than just the gas tax. Only 17 percent of respondents said they support tolling. That’s a little better than support for the gas tax, but not by much. And only 20 percent support replacing the gas tax with a miles-driven tax. Only 30 percent favor pushing the problem to state and local governments.

So what does the public support? Apparently, a free ride. But that’s not realistic, even with more interest in public transportation options.

At the same time, more fuel-efficient cars are paying less gas tax while still using public roads.

Most of the public, we suspect, if given a detailed accounting of the highway fund deficit and stale gas tax, would be OK with a higher tax and other measures to raise more revenue. Regardless of whether that’s true, our leaders should have the courage to do what’s needed to balance the books.

The only good news in the latest poll is that a lot of people aren’t sure what to think. For example, while only 17 percent favor private toll roads, 37 percent aren’t sure about their position, and 46 percent (fewer than half) are opposed.

It’s going to take leaders in Washington and Wisconsin to do the right thing and balance transportation cost with revenue.