With Release Of National Transportation Report, Reporting Still Leaving Out Key Equation

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Commentary, Privatization, Road Issues at 3:41 pm by wcnews

Yesterday the anticipated, expected, and awaited final report of the the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, Transportation For Tomorrow, was released. There was nothing, earth shattering, ground breaking, or that hadn’t been heard before in the report. If the bridge collapse in Minnesota didn’t make someone understand that our highway infrastructure is dangerously under-funded then nothing will.

Gov. Perry predictably blew a gasket. If the gas tax is raised instead of tolling every new highway he swears economic ruin will be in Texas’ future.

“Raising taxes is seldom the right answer and sending more of Texans’ money to Washington, D.C. only to have it earmarked, redistributed to other states or locked into outmoded bureaucratic programs will do very little if anything to relieve congestion on Texas roads,” said Gov. Perry.

Reminds me of the GOP scare regarding Clinton’s 1993 tax increase.

The entire bill was very controversial. Many Republicans warned that many of the bills provisions would result in economic catastrophe and that deficit would actually increase. The recently elected President Bill Clinton was criticized by many for what was perceived as a reversal of his campaign pledge to cut middle class taxes although in actuality taxes increased on only the top 2% of taxpayers. Many Americans initially were supportive of changes in the tax code to help the economy and lower the deficit (according to public opinion polls taken at the time). Nonetheless, by the mid-term elections of 1994, many American voters were galvanized by the Republican charge that the Democratic Party had raised their taxes, though Republican warnings of a recession never materialized.

Of course we all know how the economy did after that.

Ben Wear’s post is a pretty good synopsis of what’s going on, Toll-vs-tax debate has a big day. Also notice the fact that Wear’s post and another make clear who’s on this commission. Wear’s post starts out by saying this:

Congress in 2005 created the — deep breath — National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission to help it understand what to do about the increasing financial starvation of the nation’s transportation system.

Congress in 2005, you’ll remember, was still controlled by Republicans, so the commission was hardly a nest of fuzzy-headed Demotaxers, right? Well, the commission put out its long-awaited study Tuesday. Its solution for the money shortage: raise more money. The board recommended basically a tripling of the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal gas tax over the next five years, and suggested that states consider raising their gas taxes as well

Yep, a bunch of Republicans are recommending this tax increase. Another sign of how bad our infrastructure must be. While the “wing-nut” Empower Texas had this to say about the commission:

Who is the National Surface Transportation Policy and Review Commission? It’s made up of people, no surprise, who benefit from taking your money. In the words of the NSTPRC website, “Federal, state and local governments; metropolitan planning organizations; transportation-related industries; and public interest organizations” — actual taxpayers not permitted. The Republican Congress appointed the group in 2005. (And those same GOP congressman cannot figure out why they lost in 2006… could it be bone-headed creations like this? Yes.)

Well the GOP has been against letting “taxpayers” on commissions. And calling out corporate welfare and MPO’s, that’s the alternative system the GOP set up in Texas. Three of the twelve on the commission dissented including Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters. But if nine Republicans, including a “founding father” of the modern conservatives, thinks raising the gas tax is a good idea, then tolls, concessions and the like must be much worse than originally thought. Here’s what Weyrich had to say in the DMN:

“I am a die-hard conservative Republican,” panel member Paul Weyrich, founding president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said at a news conference Tuesday. “And it has become an absolute orthodoxy within the conservative movement that you cannot raise any taxes. Well, in this particular instance, I don’t see any alternative.”

Wear at the end also points out that no politician has come to the commissions defense yet.

Among the politicians quoted in that release: Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (“A special commission came up with an old, cold, bad idea.”), Democratic New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (who liked none of the commission’s ideas), Democratic Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (“I think raising the gas tax now is impossible, because people are hurting”) and Florida GOP U.S. Rep. John Mica (dramatically raising the gas tax “does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of passing Congress”) and, of course, Perry.

I wouldn’t put much stock in what pro toll NJ Gov. Corzine is saying, even though he’s a Democrat. This report is only a recommendation, and would look much different if it ever made it through Congress and was signed into law. It’s also not likely anything would happen before 2009, this being a presidential election year.

Of course, the main thing missing from any of the reporting is what’s always been missing from the reporting. A key equation that shows Americans how much cheaper a gas tax is opposed to tolls:

Assuming your car gets 20 miles a gallon and your daily commute on the toll road will be 20 miles (not, by any means inconceivable) you’d spend only an extra 80¢ per day driving to and from work. That’s the non-toll road math. So how much will it cost you with the tolls.

Again working with the 15¢/per mile scenario. Using the same assumptions as above, you’d pay $3.00 per day in tolls. Using toll road math, that’s cheaper than 80¢. (Numbers reworked from this 11/06 McBlogger post).

The traditional media will never point out one simple fact, gas tax is much cheaper than tolls. Why is unclear.

Yes 80 cents is outrageous, and but it’s hard to imagine Congress going for that. In reality if the gas tax was raised substantially it would probably happen gradually, not over night. Our transportation infrastructure needs more money, that is undeniable. A state gas tax increase for Texas would be more like 8 to 10 cents, then indexed to inflation. We can either do it the less expensive way, through a tax gas increase and own the result, or we can pay much more in the long run to allow corporations, foreign and domestic, to profit and reap the rewards.

The major flaw in getting the gas tax option in place is spineless politicians. They believe they will be ran out of office if they vote to raise taxes, no matter how justifiable. (They believe this for good reason, see link on Clinton’s tax increase above). Therefore voters must communicate with their elected officials - federal, state and local - and tell them they want the gas tax raised, and that they will not pay at the polls for raising the gas tax.


  1. jtormey3 said,

    January 16, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    In the face of an apparent refusal by Representative John L. Mica (R.Fl., 7th Dist.) to heed a prior demand that he step down from the House Transportation Committee and Aviation Subcommittee, a group that I co-founded with others, New York environmental group “Quiet Rockland”, acting in solidarity with the strength of thousands of petition-signatories, 300,000 Rockland County NY neighbors, and millions of affected residents in four other Northeast states, today served Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) demands upon Mica at his six (6) Florida offices, as well as mirrored FOIA demands on the USDOT and FAA. The FOIAs requisition all documents implicating Mica, as well as his campaign donors and donations, in the FAA”s hotly-contested and litigated “NY/NJ/PHL Airspace Redesign”.

    John L. Mica misused his position in government to personally peddle the FAA”s horrific Airspace Redesign. “Quiet Rockland” will further unearth why, and how. Mica, the USDOT, and the FAA can now elect to timely comply with the document demands, or else not. They can come forward, or they can hide. “Quiet Rockland” is ready to play it either way. All our rights and remedies are reserved. The FOIA served on Mica is not served on him as a Congressman, but instead served on him as an FAA alter ego, as well as on his Florida district and campaign offices. Mica and the FAA have acted in concert as one and the same harmful enterprise, to cram-down a harmful flight-plan for commercial gain while oblivious to safety and environmental imperatives. He waived any FOIA immunity he would otherwise have as a Congressman.

    The three FOIA”s in their respective full texts are available upon e-mailed request to “jtormey@optonline.net”. They will also be posted on the “Anyone But Mica” Internet website when Congress reconvenes next week.

  2. HeavyDuty said,

    January 17, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    In the last state legislative session the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) was put on hold, but no other method was made available for funding new road construction, or operating and maintaining existing infrastructure. So, the Perry appointees at TxDOT HQ whine that there’s no money for them to do their job; a corner they willfully backed into.

    There has been an experiment in a private toll road in south Texas, the Camino-Columbia toll road, where drivers proved that they would much rather wait in snarled traffic than pay profitable toll rates. So, the lesson that Perry’s minions at TxDOT HQ learned was that you take negotiations for privately owned toll roads behind closed doors and give away the farm.

    TX is now the second most populous state in the nation and is burdened with a burgeoning flow of NAFTA related traffic. This has put a tremendous, and increasing, burden on the ground transportation infrastructure of our state in the last decade, while inflation has upped the cost of building operating and maintaining said facilities. Yet our fuel taxes have stagnated for well more than 10 years. Our state legislature wants us to believe that the only adequate solution is to turn our road and train routes over to private, campaign contributing, companies.

    We’ve had one proof of the concept that common carriage transportation is not going to be sufficiently profitable for private companies, but if more proof is needed it should be on a project much smaller than the TTC. In the meantime let’s take care of the current needs by raising the state and federal fuel taxes, as the federal government’s commission has wisely suggested.

  3. Eye on Williamson » Primer For Transportation Hearings At The Capitol Tomorrow said,

    February 4, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    […] both had their takes on the topic. No doubt the Sunset Commission will be watching. Two weeks ago a national report was released urging the gas tax be raised and indexed to pay for our future infrastructure needs. As if on cue, […]

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