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Wise gas tax words from on high PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 May 2017 21:26

A voice of reason on the subject of America’s transportation needs was heard last week. The voice belonged to Donald Trump. 

Yes, that Trump, the president of the United States. Unlike some of his more colorful utterances, this one seemed intended to be taken seriously, and it should be, especially by Congress.

Trump said the federal gasoline tax should be raised. He put out the idea in an interview with Bloomberg News as a way to help fund his $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Trump seems to get it about road funding. The gas tax is a simple and effective means already in place to raise money to fix the country’s woefully neglected highways and bridges. It just needs to bring in more money.

During the same week the president showed his grasp of the transportation funding issue, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker again displayed his obtuseness on the matter by rejecting a plan by legislators of his own Republican party to address the state’s road crisis by increasing the fuel tax.

Deteriorated roads, besides endangering users and increasing the cost of vehicle ownership, are a drag on the economy. Twenty-one states have countered this since 2013 by increasing their fuel taxes. Just last week, California increased its gas tax by $5 billion a year to help sustain the best performing state economy in the nation.

Meanwhile, with the governor rejecting a restrained fuel tax increase that would have raised $200 million a year, Wisconsin remains stuck with a huge road maintenance and building backlog and no plan to deal with it.

The federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel fuel has remained at this level for the past 20 years. With inflation and vehicles getting more miles per gallon, fuel tax revenue is diminishing when its need is increasing.

The result is highway conditions that get worse by the year. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the highway system of the world’s richest nation a D grade, the deteriorated state of roads cost the U.S. $100 billion in 2014 alone. The Department of Transportation estimated the current repair backlog at $90 billion.

There is no mystery, or even complexity, about the issue: Failing to restore transportation infrastructure quality to a reasonable standard costs lives and hurts the economy. Better roads are safer for drivers and passengers, make for shorter commutes and stimulate economic growth by making the shipping of goods and materials more efficient.

Assuming he doesn’t upend his sensible recommendation with a midnight tweet, Trump’s gas tax idea can be expected to resurface at some point in Congress. There it is certain to be met with resistance from those representatives who are members, as is Wisconsin’s governor, of the all-taxes-are-evil sect. 

Refusing on ideological grounds to consider raising taxes regardless of need is no service to taxpayers in any context, but it is especially contrary to progress in the case of transportation infrastructure. 

Road taxes may be the oldest of all taxes, levied for centuries as tolls and fees by advanced nations and municipalities that recognized the ability to travel as essential to promoting commerce and improving the standard of living for citizens.

Walker has been so unbending on the gas tax that Republican legislators, pressed by business interests to do something to lift the state out of its gaping highway funding hole, resorted to packaging their transportation plan in clownish wrapping paper to disguise the gas tax increase. 

Their plan would actually reduce the gas tax by 4.8 cents per gallon, but then charge the state’s 5% sales tax on gasoline sales. The net result would add 7.2 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas to be used for roads.

Road funding doesn’t have to be as complicated—or as foolish—as that. Trump is often criticized and sometimes ridiculed for oversimplifying complex government issues, but raising revenue to start upgrading transportation infrastructure really is simple for the federal and state governments.

As the man said, just raise the gas tax.

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