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The new Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says raising the federal gas tax to pay for shortfalls in road construction funds is a non-starter as far as he’s concerned. Instead he says private investments and toll road fees should take up the slack.
Such is the yin and yang of highway funding in the United States today–private vs. public funding. There are good arguments on both sides of the issues, but the people who say we can’t raise the gas tax are making a political argument, rather than looking out for the best interests of the country as a whole.
Republican demagoguery on the gas tax issue has made it politically untouchable. Yet big toll road projects like the Trans Texas Corridor, have been shot down by the public and certainly face fierce opposition in the future. Highway officials have also floated the idea that we might put GPS chips in cars and just charge everybody per mile driven. But such a plan would take a decade or more to implement and is rife with unknowns and complexities–the kind of thing our government doesn’t do very well.
We’re going to pay for our roads one way or the other, a tax, a toll, or a chip — or we’re going to let our roads continue to deteriorated. A tax is a tax no matter what you call it or how you collect it. the gas tax is the only method of payment that encourages energy independence, the creation of alternative fuel vehicles and a reduction in pollution and greenhouse gasses. It’s also easy to enforce and administrate and if you don’t like it, the gas tax is the one tax you can lower yourself by driving a more fuel efficient vehicle.
Then again, if your think we can improve our economy by continuing to ship a trillion dollars for crude oil overseas to the Middle East and Venezuala, the GPS chips and the toll roads make perfect sense.