Sure, Leave Gas Tax Collection to Liberal Tax-and-Spend States Like Georgia

One nay-sayer argument against greater federal spending for transportation goes like this: “Too many faceless bureaucrats in Washington have too much control over how states spend their money. Let states raise their own revenues and spend them as they wish.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal wants to freeze the state gas tax. Photo: ##http://www.beaconcastmedia.com/politics/Senate-Democrats-Vow-To-Take-To-The-Streets-In-Battle-over-HOPE-Reforms--2851##The Beacon##

Besides, they say, the national government is broke. There’s no more money to spend on roads and trains.

There are a hundred reasons why leaving transportation revenue collection and spending to the states is a bad idea. First, states are in a worse fiscal crisis right now than the feds – in part because they have a balanced-budget requirement, meaning they can’t overspend their revenues in lean times. Second, just because I don’t live in Kansas or West Virginia doesn’t mean I don’t have an interest in those states’ infrastructure, when so much of what I buy rides the roads and rails of those states to reach me. And I start to care a lot about the infrastructure of New Jersey when I travel to New York from Washington.

But here’s another reason: it’s not that much easier to gain public support for raising taxes at the state or local level than at the national level.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal is asking state legislators to approve his state gas tax freeze – saving drivers 1.6 cents a gallon, but costing the state $30 million. New York legislators have also drunk the tax-holiday Kool-Aid, despite the fact that it would cost the state $19 million over just three weekends. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is trying to raise the gas tax, and Sen. Scott Brown is giving him a hard time about it. A Connecticut state senator is going around getting petition signatures against raising the state gas tax. Gas station owners in Carson Valley, Nevada are running their own campaign to keep the county from raising the gas tax five cents — which would just bring it on par with the neighboring county.

There is evidence that when voters know exactly what the revenues will go toward – and it will benefit them – they support higher taxes. But that doesn’t mean raising taxes is ever easy — even if it’s just to replace a federal tax that used to be in place. Once a tax is gone, you can bet people will fight against re-implementation. For proof, just look at the fight brewing over merely extending the federal gas tax that’s been in place for decades.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Missouri, Welcome to the Era of the Broke State DOT

|
Word went out in a press release early last month: The Missouri Department of Transportation would be eliminating 1,200 jobs, closing 135 facilities and selling 740 pieces of equipment. “This is about survival,” said MoDOT spokesman Jorma Duran. “This is about making sure our roads and bridges continue to be maintained and operable.” Drastic times […]

Is Raising the Gas Tax Really the Answer?

|
Cross-posted from the Frontier Group … In the 1920s, Great Britain debated the future of its Road Fund – a pot of money raised from vehicle excise taxes and devoted exclusively to road repair. Then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill opposed the fund, arguing that, if drivers paid taxes dedicated solely to roads, “It will be only […]

Who Would Benefit From Eliminating the Federal Gas Tax?

|
We wrote recently on Streetsblog Capitol Hill about a proposal by Republican members of Congress to eliminate the federal gas tax and turn transportation funding entirely over to the states. This proposal — “devolution,” it’s called — has been a conservative dream for decades. Transportation reformers tend to hate the idea because state DOTs on […]