It is time for Congress to get serious about dealing with the nation’s road funding crisis, and the crisis is real.
The federal highway fund is on the verge of running dry later this year without an infusion of cash from the general fund. If Congress acts to transfer these funds, we will avert a short term problem and keep road crews working. However, it does nothing to create a sustainable solution and may actually perpetuate the problem over the long run.
These transfers are one giant act of enablement, lulling the public into thinking there is no true crisis. Why would any logical voter support a fuel tax increase if road funding can be dealt with in a seemingly painless way?
And there is the rub. It seems painless, but it is not. Transfers increase the national debt. Period. So we have citizens receiving a benefit – good roads – without any logical link to how they are paying for it. The current system has a total lack of transparency and integrity.
President Obama’s recent transportation funding proposal uses similar smoke and mirror tactics, which only makes a bad situation worse.
When I say get serious, I mean having a robust public debate about what we need and how we are going to pay for it. Let’s tee up the ideas and go after it. An American Trucking Associations task force put forward its own list of ideas to consider:
• Increase the fuel tax;
• Indexing of the fuel tax based on price, Consumer Price Index, or the estimated impact of improved fuel efficiency;
• Proceeds from repatriation of overseas capital;
• Issuance of Treasury bonds subsidized with revenue from indexing the fuel tax;
• A new annual “highway access fee” for all motorists;
• Use of royalties from new oil and gas leases;
• A per-barrel tax on imported oil and domestic crude production; and
• As a last resort, a transfer from the General Fund to ensure short-term Highway Trust Fund stability.
Even the ATA couldn’t help itself, keeping the general fund transfers in the mix.
I say it’s time for some tough love when it comes to highway funding. Let’s be open, honest and link what we get with what we pay. Americans might just be smart and tough enough to take it. I know truckers are.
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