Friday, January 08, 2010

"A dime for needed highways, very bad; but untold hundreds of billions of dollars for oil speculators is OK?"

Toll Roads: By the Numbers


Ed Wallace
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2009

"I’m not real fond of raising [gas] taxes when there’s a recession going on." — Texas Governor Rick Perry, quoted at

Our governor keeps shifting his excuse for opposing the gasoline taxes that would bring all Texans highways equal to the sharply increased traffic demand. Gov. Perry’s position, quoted above, rings false for several reasons:

1. He was against raising the gasoline tax in the best of financial times. You’ll find out why in a moment.

2. The proposed tax that Perry was rejecting to get our highway construction in gear to accommodate past and future growth was one thin dime per gallon.

3. Of all the things government does with tax dollars that give huge immediate returns to the national or state GDP, infrastructure investment tops a very short list. Some have suggested that every dollar invested in new roads adds $6 to the economy as it is spread around. That’s an overstatement, but easily $1.50 or more returns to the economy for every new highway dollar spent.

4. Highway funds go to hire people to build roads and supply the construction material: Therefore, road construction quickly lessens any recession’s effect.

Step Over a Dime: Expensive PR

Years ago I wrote that, having had the same gasoline tax for nearly 20 years, Texas easily could add a dime to the price of gas and get the roads built that we desperately need. That dime could come close to fully funding new construction to lower the congestion caused by our massive growth. This was the legitimate use for such funds; after all, government is supposed to invest for our economic future.

Looking at Department of Energy data on gasoline use in Texas, over the past decade that dime per gallon could have added close to $12 billion to our highway fund.

Keep in mind that 11 years ago gas was selling for 99 cents, so a dime per gallon would not have been missed. Come to think of it, drivers would have missed that amount even less when gasoline was $4 a gallon. But therein lies the hypocrisy: Elected officials, both state and federal, refused to raise taxes to fund new highways claiming "no new taxes" — but said not a word when speculators took oil from under $12 a barrel in 1999 to $147 in the summer of 2008. A dime for needed highways, very bad; but untold hundreds of billions of dollars for oil speculators is OK?

Nobody likes higher taxes, but that’s because the average person doesn’t perceive any extra benefit from paying more. But public roads benefit everybody — and everyone can identify this smart use of public funds. And now? Allowing private corporations to build toll roads that everybody will have to use is just "new taxes" under a different name.

"Value-Priced" Motoring

When toll operators find their ventures insufficiently profitable they simply raise their tolls — again and again. Doubt that? Just look at the recent toll increases on the NTTA projects over in Dallas and Collin counties.

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