Congress let highways deteriorate too long

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., will introduce bills to raise federal fuel taxes, index them to inflation and test a vehicle-mile tax. Blumenauer wants to propose a diesel and gasoline tax hikes for 2014.

This is what we get when the sponsor of the bill does not have a clue where the money has gone from similar bills that have been past in previous years. When they cannot tell why they need to add a higher fuel tax on an already strapped driving public, this is nothing more than Buyer beware. We have seen this time and time again, Congress’ answer to everything is throwing more money at it and it will go away.

The sad thing is, it’s not going away. Our highway system and bridges are in a sorry state of repairs. Thing are so bad that in some case traffic has to be rerouted just to bypass a bridge.

We all have heard of the pavement buckling after years of stress. Lately we have heard of bridges collapsing with no warning and causing injuries and in the case of the I-35 Bridge there were deaths.

The Federal Department of Highways has reported to Congress that if they don’t raise the amount of funds for repairs and replacement that they will not be able to keep up with, not only the current level of repair, but any that may need to be done in the future.

The last few transfers from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund has been $155 billion and DOH has constantly told Congress it will take $521 billion just to keep up with the current level of inflation and cost of materials. If Congress cannot come up with a comprehensive long term highway bill DOH has stated that they will fall behind on the repairs that have been contracted for in 2014.

The proposals come as Congress begins to consider ways to revive funding for U.S. roads and bridges. The current highway program expires in less than a year, and unless Congress acts the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money by 2015.

“There are already significant funding challenges,” Blumenauer said in a United Transportation Union publication. “Congress has transferred $55 billion in general fund revenues to the Highway Trust Fund to avoid bankruptcy since 2009. When the current authorization expires, the Highway Trust Fund will require almost $15 billion a year in addition to existing gas tax receipts, merely to maintain 2009 funding levels.”

Blumenauer wants to raise the tax on gasoline and diesel by 15 cents over three years and index the taxes to inflation, said his spokesman, Patrick Malone.

The gas tax is now 18.4 cents a gallon, and diesel is 24.4 cents a gallon.

The congressman’s proposal has its roots in numerous studies of the highway funding issue, including the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission and the Simpson-Bowles budget reform proposal. Both recommend significant fuel tax increases and indexing as the quickest, most efficient way to address the funding shortfall in the near term.

Business interests including American Trucking Associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly support the idea of increasing fuel taxes to pay for reinvestment in infrastructure.

ATA issued a statement supporting the bill.

“Our support for raising the fuel tax should clearly demonstrate just how critical good roads are for moving freight, commuters, vacationers and shoppers,” said Mary Phillips, ATA senior vice president of legislative affairs. “If the users tell Congress ‘we support paying more to support our roads,’ we hope Congress will listen.”

“For years, the trucking industry has been urging someone to put a fuel tax increase on the table, and Congressman Blumenauer’s bill does just that,” said ATA Chairman Phil Byrd, president of Bulldog HI way Express, Charleston, S.C. “The fuel tax is our most efficient and effective way of funding the improvements and repairs our highways and bridges so desperately need.”

Blumenauer also wants more study of a vehicle-mile tax as a potential supplement or alternative to fuel taxes. As vehicles become more efficient and as alternative fuels come into use, the revenue from traditional fuel taxes declines. A vehicle-mile tax is seen as a possible remedy to that problem.

If Congress would stop raiding Social Security and the highway trust fund, the money would be there when it’s needed. Congress has robbed Peter to pay Paul for so many years without paying back what they took it’s no wonder the highway and bridge system is in the sad state of repairs we find it today.

This has to stop. We can’t keep raising taxes to pay for their pilfering of the funds needed to keep our highway system repaired and up to date.

When you have a Congress that feels they can do anything they want this is what you end up with. I believe it is time for a change.

Mike McRae