There's a proposal under discussion in Congress - obviously driven by the I-35W bridge collapse - to add 5 cents additional tax onto each gallon of gas sold to pay for infrastructure maintenance and improvements. In response, the NTU has just issued a letter with the support of 50 different anti-tax groups, addressed to the President and Congress, strongly arguing against raising the gas tax. They point out that although this is supposed to be a temporary increase to pay for bridge repairs, similar temporary increases in the first Bush and Clinton administrations never actually went away and were eventually 'repurposed' away from their original use. They've got a good point. Passing new taxes in a panic when you haven't been responsible with the money you've already taken from the taxpayers seems like the height of irresponsibility.
President Bush has come out in opposition to the gas tax increase too, and he hits on the one thing that he and I and the NTU can all agree on. There's no good reason to keep throwing new money at the highways so long as we're saddled with the bloated 6-year highway plan passed in 2005 which includes $25 billion in pure pork in the form of almost 6500 earmarks, including the now-legendary 'bridge to nowhere' in Alaska. Cutting that pork would easily raise as much additional money for highway maintenance and repair as a 5 cent hike in the federal gas tax, so the idea of cutting the pork instead of raising the tax is very appealing.
In principle I agree. By all means let's make pork cutting our first priority. But when it comes to a gas tax there's a larger issue in play and that's where I have my falling out with the estimable folks at the National Taxpayer's Union, because all they're worrying about is cutting taxes. They're not looking at the larger picture.
What if, rather than just cutting the pork and leaving the huge transportation budget of more than $40 billion a year sucking at the taxpayer wallet, we were to take this idea of raising the gas tax and handle it in a responsible way? Why not improve our highway funding while making taxes more equitable at the same time?
Cutting $25 billion in pork from the six-year budget would free up about $4 billion a year to improve bridge safety, about half of the $8 billion you'd get from the proposed 5 cent increase in the gas tax. What if we went a step further? We could cut the pork, and then instead of adding 5 cents to the gas tax we could add 30 cents. That would raise $45 billion over and above the $4 billion in cut pork savings. That would be enough to pay the entire yearly federal transportation budget with $9 billion additional for urgent infrastructure maintenance like bridge repairs.