Boehner Calls Obama’s Bluff on Infrastructure (But Who Will Call Boehner’s?)

Did you notice the big white beard and jolly red cheeks on President Obama at the State of the Union the other night? He’s the new Santa Claus, giving out gifts the government can’t afford to greedy little kids everywhere.

That’s how House Speaker John Boehner sees the president’s latest proposal for infrastructure investment — $40 billion for maintenance, under a strict “fix it first” ethic, with no revenue stream attached to it.

“Trying to find a funding source to repair the nation’s infrastructure is still a big goal of mine,” Boehner told reporters yesterday. “And the president talked about infrastructure, but he didn’t talk about how to pay for it. It’s easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all these things you want to give away, but at some point, somebody’s got to pay the bill.”

This is exactly what happened on Valentine’s Day two years ago, when President Obama rolled out his six-year transportation budget proposal. The spending side of the ledger was enthusiastically filled in — but the revenue side? Crickets.

As we said at the time, bold and innovative infrastructure proposals are great but it doesn’t really help anything, in these lean times, to promise the moon and then offer nothing in the way of realistic funding.

Now, Boehner’s not blameless in all this. He says he’s looking for a funding source, but only if it rhymes with “soil shilling.” Foil filling? Oil drilling. That’s right. Otherwise, he’s only too happy to cut transportation spending by a third — and next time around, it’ll be an even bigger cut than that. It’s certainly disappointing that Congressional Democrats and the White House have been afraid to come out in favor of a gas tax hike, but it’s not as if Boehner’s been pushing for sensible revenue measures either.

Forty billion dollars for transportation maintenance is a worthy goal. It could hold at bay the calls for highway expansion and help the country get more out of the infrastructure we have, while saving ourselves bigger expenditures on replacement when poorly maintained infrastructure finally needs to go. It could even have big benefits for bicycling.

If we can’t find the money to pay for this, what will we find the money for? U.S. DOT’s plan for 3,000 new miles of highway?

3 thoughts on Boehner Calls Obama’s Bluff on Infrastructure (But Who Will Call Boehner’s?)

  1. This is how you call Boehner’s bluff:  eliminate both the federal gas
    tax and all federal funding of all roads and transit. Let each state,
    region and community figure out how to fund capital outlays and
    maintenance, either through increasing gas taxes, implementing a VMT
    tax, tolling roadways, bonds, general funds or some other creative idea.
    Allow states to toll the federal interstate system (tolling of much of
    it is prevented by federal law right now) but specify that any toll
    rates must be proportional to the weight per axle of the vehicle
    squared. (weight/number of axles)^2. For vehicles under 10,000 lbs, the
    empty tare weight of the vehicle could be used.  For vehicles over
    10,000 lbs, the vehicle weight plus load weight should be used. In
    addition tolls can’t charge out of state vehicles more than in-state
    vehicles, and they can’t collect more in a given year for a given
    stretch of road than the previous year’s maintenance cost for that
    stretch of road plus plus inflation. You might think that states will be
    inclined to fund roads through stupid measures like increased sales
    taxes, but in the end most states will rely on user fees of some kind
    because they just won’t be able to stand letting drivers from other
    states use their roads for free.

    The DOTs main role would mainly
    become one of safety–they would inspect all roads and bridges and shut
    down any that are unsafe or likely to fail within the next six months.

    this would also have to be part of the deal:  with the elimination of
    the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax, institute a carbon deposit of
    1/10th of a penny for every pound of carbon emitted for all fossil
    fuels. (Should be levied at point of sale to whatever entity is
    combusting the fuel, whether by vehicle, home or power plant.) The
    carbon deposit on a gallon of gasoline would only come out to 2 cents a
    gallon!  Every two years, this deposit would increase by 1/10th of a
    penny per pound. What’s important about this is it’s not a tax, it’s a
    deposit. You get it back! Each region would collect all the monies
    quarterly from the carbon deposit, divide them up by the number of
    taxpayers in that region, and send out equal checks (or direct deposits)
    to all taxpayers. As long as you emitted no more carbon than the
    average person in your region, you would get every penny back. It
    wouldn’t hurt poor people because they already use less energy than
    average, so they’d get all their money back, plus a little extra. Richer
    people who use a lot of energy wouldn’t get quite all their deposit
    back, but they are the folks with the money for electric cars, solar
    panels, and LEDs anyway. Looking at total US carbon emissions, this
    would come to just $36 per person per year. All of it would stay in your
    local region, and you would get it all back!

    The regions could be divided up like this:
    New England–Connecticut, Maine, Mass., New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
    Central Atlantic–Delaware, Distr. of Col., Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania
    Lower Atlantic–Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia
    Appalachia–West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee
    Eastern Midwest–Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio
    Western Midwest–Minnesota, North Dak., South Dak., Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska
    Gulf Coast–Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas
    Rocky Mountain–Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming
    West Coast–Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington
    Outer Pacific–Hawaii and Alaska (they actually have comparable CO2 emissions)

    want investment? This scheme would generate personal, private, commercial, local and state
    investment like crazy. And almost all the investment would all be going
    to things worth investing in rather than highway earmarks and pork that
    are worthless long term, (and where, sadly, billions of dollars of DOT
    funding currently go.) VMT would plummet, freight would switch to rail, short distance air travel would be replaced by rail, regions would work together to fund intercity rail routes,
    transit use would go up, bike riding and walking would soar. CO2
    emissions would drop, slowly at first and then radically. Wind and solar would replace coal, regions would work together to load
    balance electrical supply.

    Though the above may sound scary and radical, what we are doing now is
    exchanging relatively small amounts of transit funding for continued
    enormous road subsidies that prop up fossil fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and the US
    car-based way of life. Even the “fix it first” strategy is a continuation of business as usual with just a dollop of change.

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