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Panel wants fuel taxes hiked to fund highways

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by MGarrison, Jan 2, 2009.

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    Panel wants fuel taxes hiked to fund highways

    Jan 2, 1:08 AM (ET)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - A 50 percent increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes is being urged by a federal commission to finance highway construction and repair until the government devises another way for motorists to pay for using public roads.

    The National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing, a 15-member panel created by Congress, is the second group in a year to call for higher fuel taxes.

    With motorists driving less and buying less fuel, the current 18.4 cents a gallon gas tax and 24.4 cents a gallon diesel tax fail to raise enough to keep pace with the cost of road, bridge and transit programs.

    In a report expected in late January, members of the infrastructure financing commission say they will urge Congress to raise the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 12 to 15 cents a gallon. At the same time, the commission will recommend tying the fuel tax rates to inflation.

    The commission will also recommend that states raise their fuel taxes and make greater use of toll roads and fees for rush-hour driving.

    A tax increase on this order would be politically treacherous for Democratic leaders in Congress - a gas tax hike was one of the reasons they lost control of the House and Senate in the 1994 elections. President-elect Barack Obama has expressed concern about raising gas taxes in the current economic climate. But commission members said the government must find the money somewhere.

    "I'm not excited about a gas tax increase, but the reality is our current gas tax doesn't pay for upkeep of the system we have now," said Adrian Moore, vice president of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Los Angeles, and a member of the highway revenue commission. "We can either let the roads go to hell or we can pay more."

    The dilemma for Congress is that highway and transit programs are dependent for revenue on fuel taxes that are not sustainable. Many Americans are driving less and switching to more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, and a shift to new fuels and technologies like plug-in hybrid electric cars will further erode gasoline sales.

    According to a draft of the financing commission's recommendations, the nation needs to move to a new system that taxes motorists according to how much they use roads.

    "Most if not all of the commissioners have a strong belief and commitment that we need a fundamental transformation of the current system," said commission chairman Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a technology policy think tank in Washington.

    A study by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies estimated that the annual gap between revenues and the investment needed to improve highway and transit systems was about $105 billion in 2007, and will increase to $134 billion in 2017 under current trends.

    Projected shortfalls in revenue led the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, in a report issued in January 2008, to call for an increase of as much as 40 cents a gallon in the gas tax, phased in over five years.

    Charles Whittington, chairman of the American Trucking Associations, which supports a fuel tax increase as long as the money goes to highway projects, said Congress may decide to disguise a fuel tax hike as a surcharge to combat climate change.

    Transportation is responsible for about a third of all U.S. carbon emissions created by burning fossil fuels. Traffic congestion wastes an estimated 2.9 billion gallons of fuel a year. Less congestion would reduce greenhouse gases and dependence on foreign oil.

    "Instead of calling it a gas tax, call it a carbon tax," Whittington said. "As long as we label it as something else we may have the momentum and acceptance to move forward."

    Bottlenecks around the nation cost the trucking industry about 243 million lost truck hours and about $7.8 billion per year, according to the commission.

    The financing commission thinks the long-term solution is a mileage-based revenue system. While details have not been worked out, such a system would mean equipping every car and truck with a device that uses global positioning satellites and transponders to record how many miles the vehicle has been driven, the type of roads and time of day. Creation and installation of such a system would take about 10 years.

    Moore said commission members were initially concerned that using technology to track driving might violate drivers' privacy, but they've been assured that such a system could be designed to prevent vehicles from being "tracked in some big brotherish way."
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    I don't know about ya'll, but I find myself groaning in dismay over a number of the implications here, while still recognizing the problem that the road maintenance needs to be paid for somehow.

    Wait a sec - if the roads are built at public expense by taxpayer dollars for the benefit of the public, why exactly do we have to pay to USE them? What kind of rationale is that?! I'd have less of a problem with that sentence if it said 'for motorists to fund the maintenance of public roads'.

    What a surprise...

    Isn't it possible that eventually people may drive more and buy more fuel?

    I hate the idea of a 50% tax increase, but by itself 10-15 cents doesn't sound like so much. However, around here, between state, county AND federal gas taxes, taxes are at least 45 cents of every gallon, which starts to sound like a lot. And also begs the question, where & towards what do the state & county gas taxes go? What roads, bridges and "transit programs" do these federal tax dollars go to? "Transit programs" sounds like one of those bureaucratic catch-alls that vacuum up bazillions of taxpayer dollars without providing or doing anything tangible - what are the transit programs, and shouldn't those be scrutinized for optimizing operating efficiency & expense?

    I hate that idea too - can't be good to empower the bureaucracy & government to have an automatically increasing tax in place which then becomes much more difficult to reign in under congressional and democratic purview.

    Arrgh - I hate that mindset too; it goes away from the idea of the roads in their original conception: to facilitate the convenient, quick, safe, & easy transit from one point to another, instead moving towards viewing roads solely as a source of income, at the expense of convenience, safety & ease. Anyone driven around Chicago toll roads lately anytime except 3:50-4:15am? What a freakin' nightmare :cool: Of course, things are so congested there through rush hours, I have to wonder if anything might be gained by eliminating toll plazas, too.

    That's only nominally reassuring.

    What a surprise.

    The inherent problem of bureaucracies - never seems to occur to anyone to re-allocate parts of the pie at the expense of one part for another part of higher priority. The question is to what degree that might be feasible. I would think that it at least might be possible to pay the same and fix the roads.

    Never mind the irony that increasing fuel prices with tax increases will decrease demand and tax revenues.

    Torn on that - part of me says that sounds fair, and the cynical part says it seems all too likely there'd be mass numbers out there using the roads at the expense of everyone else due to some contingency that isn't covered, like... bus tickets being excluded from a surcharge, for instance, due to some political wrangling.

    I want to know who these commissioners are -

    Anyone remember when a hundred-billion dollars sounded like a lot of money? :eek:

    It's beginning to sound like postal rates - if it's taken 200 sumtin' years for postal rates to get to 42 cents, why can't we just raise them to a dollar and stay that way for the next 200 years? :p But, I don't want gas to be $27.00/gallon either!

    Great - that's just what we need, a bunch of bureaucratic double-speak to sneak it in under taxpayer's noses; So, the message is... 'Wait! Whatever you do, DON'T let the taxpayers KNOW what we're doing! They might not go for it!'

    Not that we need more emissions (we don't), but exactly how would toll roads accomplish that? And doesn't that obviate that keeping traffic moving is far more efficient and preferable?

    Oh, great - that sounds like a great idea :eek: Real practical and cost efficient to implement too.... and who would have to pay for it all on top of all other expenses? Yup.. us! Plus, that's just what I want, to lose all sense of freedom driving...anywhere!! Wonder how they came up w/ that 10 year estimate.. and jeez... think of the costs to enforce that system, in either human labor & related technology, or equipping every, single, freakin' foot of every road in the country with the equipment to monitor them. I wonder if it would be legal to walk on the roads!

    "Assured"??? By WHO??! "Initially" concerned? Sure is nice to know they gave a nominal nod to privacy rights before throwing them out the window. The last part, what an oxymoron - ANY tracking IS 'big brotherish'!!

    If you have an opinion or an idea on this issue, don't hesitate to write your congressional representatives, folks - relay your concerns now, if it becomes law it'll be too late!

    Consider joining or supporting the National Motorists Association as well, if you're so inclined.


    M3Driver guest

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    A fuel tax is probably only the least of our worries as far as taxes go in the next few years. :(

    missmelyssa guest

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    Yeah, it's only the beginning.

    I wish the government would focus on the root of the problem (finances in general).
    Just like everyone else, I'm going to continue to pay for it.

    BMWtoyz guest

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    Here in Washington we have a huge state gas tax bill, 54 cents per gallon, than add the federal taxes! Our government, and mainly democrats are never going to learn the tax burden lessons...so I am not holding my breath. Our energy prices, taxi rates, public transportation rates and all went up last year as a result of the "oil crisis", and now with record lows have they gone back down...NO!

    missmelyssa guest

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    Oh man, here in CA I think I heard talk of that too...increasing the gas tax.
    Things are increasing here too.
    They wanna tax everything, but it still won't get us out of debt....not with all the mishandling of funds.

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