Monday, July 28, 2008

Damned if you do...

A front-page article in today's Wall Street Journal tells us that Americans are driving less for the first time in about forever. That's the good news. Because the federal gas tax is a fixed price per gallon (18.4 cents a gallon) and not a percentage, as we drive less, money flowing into the Highway Trust Fund decreases. This means we have less money to repair our existing roads and bridges, to build new ones and to invest in public transit.

Naturally, as with everything in America, the Highway Trust Fund is running at a huge deficit. Any money spent from the fund on sensible public transportation would further decrease resources available for more public transportation, so this system has a built-in disincentive to conserve.

No politician without self-destruction fantasies would propose or endorse an increase in the gas tax. Indeed, John McCain got behind the push for a gas tax holiday. At least Barack Obama had enough sense and courage to point out the folly of that idea.

Watch as out wizards in Washington look for new sources of funding for our highways. They will raise taxes on other things so even more of our dwindling wealth goes into propping up the Happy Motoring lifestyle.

Not long after 9/11 when all those cute magnetic decals were appearing on cars I saw a wonderful political cartoon in the paper. An SUV owner was pumping gas. A magnetic ribbon on the vehicle said "Support Our Troops." Another on the gas pump said "Fund Our Enemies."

The gas tax should reflect the true cost of driving and be structured in a way that encourages conservation and transportation innovation. We have to stop sending more and more of our wealth to those who hate us. We must not further drain the life blood from America to prop up a lifestyle that has no future.


fpteditors said...

Are you sure that Highway Trust funds can be used for public transit? In PA, it is in the state constitution (yes) that gas tax money cannot be used for public transit. The reason for asking, Bush wants to use public transit money for highways and has done so already.

MojoMan said...

The WSJ article says some of the funds are used for public transportation. It would not surprise me if that use were to dwindle to nothing as we franticly struggle to keep the cars running at any cost.

I guess my main point is to point out the irony that, even as we do the right thing by conserving, the system is rigged to screw us anyway.