Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Politicians blame taxpayers while pilfering and diverting billions from both federal and state gas tax funds."


Politicians the real threat to nation's bridges


Terri Hall
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

Let's face it: We live in a quick-fix world. Rather than thinking long term and genuinely planning for the nation's present and future, politicians have become an extension of the 24/7 sound-bite media and short-term gain addicts on Wall Street.

Those against the push to privatize and toll our freeways as a quick fix for America's aging infrastructure see the Minnesota bridge tragedy as a transportation wake-up call.

It's criminal for politicians in Congress to have passed a highway bill in 2005 that funded a $223 million "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska instead of retrofitting that Minneapolis-St. Paul bridge, located on heavily traveled Interstate 35. We have seriously misplaced priorities in this country, pointing to politicians who are derelict in their duties.

The 2005 federal highway bill had 6,000 earmarks for frivolous congressional pet projects pilfered from dedicated gas tax revenues at a time when the Bush administration was pushing the privatization and tolling of our highways, saying new toll taxes were necessary to address congestion and the aging infrastructure because of a shortfall in revenues.

By design, they want to double-tax us by tolling the traveling public to plug their own leaky boat.

Politicians are now blaming taxpayers for not giving them enough of our money to pay for infrastructure when, in fact, they have pilfered and diverted billions from both federal and state gas tax funds, creating an artificial revenue shortfall and causing our infrastructure to fall into disrepair.

In Texas, 25 percent of otherwise dedicated state fuel tax revenue is diverted to nonroad uses, such as public schools, while another 10 percent goes to other budgetary items that don't relate to highways. The Legislature has diverted more than $10 billion from the highway fund since 1986 for items like the arts, the Historical Commission and mineral rights litigation.

It also has deceived taxpayers into thinking the only way out of our infrastructure woes is to toll citizens who drive on what their taxes have already built and to sell our highway system to the highest foreign bidder while still failing to keep bridges and highways safe.

With a $14 billion surplus in Texas (Minnesota had a $2.1 billion surplus), it is clear America doesn't have a revenue shortfall problem, but a profound case of fiscal irresponsibility on both the state and national levels.

Heads need to roll rather than politicians in Austin and Washington double-taxing drivers and consumers by irresponsibly spending our dedicated gas tax revenues and then adding insult to injury by tolling our roads.

Terri Hall is founder/director of Texans United for Reform and Freedom, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that educates the public on the shift to privatizing and tolling freeways.

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