Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Americans shouldn’t have to privatize their transportation systems ."

Don't dismiss gas tax hike

President Bush should not dismiss an increase in the federal gasoline tax.

August 14, 2007

Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2007

In 2005, Bush threatened to use his first veto on the highway bill if it contained a gasoline tax increase.

The catastrophic collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota again put the spotlight on the need to repair and better maintain the nation’s highway system to prevent additional tragedies.

Gasoline taxes that support the Federal Highway Trust Fund will have a $4 billion deficit by 2009 without an increase in revenue.

The collapsed I-35W bridge going into Minneapolis had been rated “structurally deficient” in 1990.

By Department of Transportation standards, “structurally deficient” bridges require “significant maintenance attention, rehabilitation or replacement.”

Federal transportation officials have identified more than 73,000 bridges across the nation that also carry the “structurally deficient” designation.

The National Bridge Inspection Program is in charge of inspecting and rating the nation’s bridges. The states are supposed to use that information to set priorities for maintaining, repairing and replacing deficient bridges.

Because many states feel pinched for lack of funds, they often use federal transportation funds to build new highways and bridges to keep up with transportation needs rather than fix deficient bridges.

States like Texas that have deteriorating roads and bridges often resort to toll roads and public-private partnerships to compensate for a lack of funds.

Polls taken before the Minnesota bridge collapsed showed that more than 70 percent of Americans favored increased spending on transportation improvements.

Without an influx of money, more states will feel forced to turn to bridge tolls and forms of highway privatization to pay for fixing deficient bridges.

Americans shouldn’t have to privatize their transportation systems to make up for insufficient funding.

According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, it will cost an estimated $155.5 billion to improve the nation’s roads and bridges to the levels needed.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., has suggested a five-cent tax hike in the gas tax. Minnesota’s governor, a long-time opponent of raising gas taxes, now says he is open to a gas hike.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., has called for dramatically raising taxes on gas by 72 cents a gallon with a 50-cent increase in direct federal taxes and the rest going for a separate tax on carbon emissions.

The former head of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors, Gregory Mankiw, favors higher gas taxes. So does former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan.

The money to fix the nation’s aging transportation infrastructure has to come from somewhere quickly. Congress should explore raising federal gasoline taxes.

© 2007 Waco Tribune-Herald: www.wacotrib.com

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