We currently pay an average gas tax of around .50 cents per gallon. Of this, 18.4 cents is sent to D.C. to be deposited in a trust fund. Funny, every time someone in the government uses the term trust fund I cringe.
The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is actually the closest thing to a real trust fund the federal government operates. Established by Congress in 1956 to pay for the Interstate Highway System, it is funded by federal gas and diesel taxes along with an assortment of other taxes on anything involving wheels or closely related to a vehicle.
Like any other tax ever established by Congress, HTF taxes were increased throughout the years “to ensure” that the fund had enough money to pay for “necessary projects.” And true to their word, these taxes were actually put into the trust fund. That is, until 1990, when Congress approved a new tax increase but only allotted half of it to HTF, putting the rest into the general funds to “reduce the deficit.” Again, in 1993, Congress increased the HTF taxes allotting only half to the trust fund and the rest to – you got it, “cutting the deficit.” Some things never change. Just like today, spending cuts or weeding out fraud and waste have never been a big priority with Congress, not as along as there is an opportunity to increase some tax or other.
In 1997 Congress saw the error of their way and redirected all gas taxes back into the HTF but the damage was done. Since 2008 the trust fund has accumulated a $55 billion deficit so the tax and spend crowd are clamoring to raise the HTF taxes once again. After all that $55 billion they took from the general fund could have been spent on other wasteful projects.
Senators Bob Corker, R-TN and Chris Murphy D-CT have proposed a 12 cents per gallon increase, to be phased in over two years, with future tax increases indexed to inflation. Last year Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, introduced a bill to raise the gas tax by 15 cents. There are some advocating 20 cents and I even heard some political commentator claim they needed at least $1.00.
While it may be true that highway infrastructure isn’t what it once was, but what is? New taxes are not the answer for every problem D.C. faces. The best answer for taxpayers is for the weasels that rule to keep their grubby fingers out of the pie and quit earmarking highway funds for pet projects.
At least 25% of the highway fund never reaches roads. From 1992 to 2013, taxpayers coughed up $9.5 billion for pedestrian and bicycle related projects like sidewalks, bike paths, and scenic trails. Money is also wasted on mass transit projects at state level like the NY City subway, buses and streetcars. Then there is that $112,000 grant money wasted on the white squirrel sanctuary and $198,000 spent for two driving simulators, or the $900,000 wasted on resurfacing a bike trail in Los Angeles and almost $6 million spent for a boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. And let’s not forget that $41 billion that no one can account for!
Ignore the scare tactics. If Congress doesn’t increase taxes, road construction will not grind to a halt nor will 700,000 jobs disappear as some claim. The Highway Trust Fund finances only a portion of road and mass transit construction. States spending on roads is almost double that of the federal government so existing projects will continue.
You’ve also heard the claim that 67,000 bridges have been rated “structurally deficient,” but, structurally deficient doesn’t automatically mean unsafe according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. It simply means that weight restrictions may need to be posted or some repair work done. And let’s face it, with 607,000 bridges, 11% of bridges needing some repairs is not that bad.
And, as for the adequacy of road spending, a Department of Transportation report this year estimated that governments at all levels were spending at least $14 billion more a year than needed to maintain existing road conditions. But wasting $14 billion a year is a drop in the buckets from those that steal rather than generate revenue.
We already pay enough taxes and thanks to the Big Green Machine, I have to fill up my car more often thanks to ethanol, costing me even more. There is no good reason to penalize taxpayers for D.C.’s failures. But then, they always do!