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Raising the gas tax

This is long overdue.

Members of the Texas Senate’s Transportation Committee said Tuesday that an increase in the 20-cents-per-gallon state fuel tax may be necessary to overcome a drastic shortage of money for new roads.

“We are in the critical position in this state where we are growing and will need more roads. But we have no money to build them and no more debt that we can issue,” the committee’s chairman, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said during a meeting in El Paso.

“The fuel tax has been the same since 1991, and that’s frankly one of the best solutions to the funding shortage we have in our hands.”

[...]

“For 20 years, the fuel tax has been the same no matter what. The state is not making a killing on the higher gas prices,” said [State Rep. Joe] Pickett, who chairs the House Transportation Committee. “No matter how much each gallon costs, we still get just 20 cents. That’s why things need to change.”

Pickett said bipartisan support exists for the tax increase, and that could make a campaign to pass it in the Legislature smoother.

I’ve talked about this a lot before, and it’s really simple. If we want TxDOT to be able to meet the state’s transportation needs – building new roads, maintaining existing ones, and now doing some non-road things like high-speed rail, it needs to have a funding source that keeps up with inflation and the growth of the state’s population. A tax that hasn’t increased in 18 years isn’t cutting it, and a statewide network of private toll roads was a lousy alternate solution that has finally died a justifiable death. This is what’s left. I will have a lot more faith in that “bipartisan support” that Pickett speaks of if we have a different Governor in office the next time the Lege meets – Hank Gilbert has explicitly called for a gas tax increase plus an indexing of the tax to inflation to cover our transportation needs, while Tom Schieffer and even KBH would be better on the issue than Rick Perry. It’s a simple choice – do we want to pay for the things we need or not? – but getting there isn’t nearly so simple. Click on for a statement from Hank Gilbert that shows some of that bipartisan support we can hope is still there in fourteen months’ time.

Lawmakers Agree: Gilbert Gas Tax Plan Makes Sense

More Legislators Favoring Plans Similar To Democratic Gov. Candidate Show His Plan Will Work

AUSTIN-Any naysayers who still doubt that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Hank Gilbert’s transportation funding plan is the best solution for Texas should look no farther than recent statements made by Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

“Recent statements by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle show that our plan is the common-sense plan,” Gilbert said. “Our plan will work, and the fact that lawmakers are discussing similar plans shows that I’m the only candidate in this race who can address Texas’ transportation needs head-on, with an honest solution,” Gilbert continued.

On Tuesday, members of the House and Senate’s transportation committees meeting in El Paso suggested that an increase in the gas tax was a viable alternative for transportation funding.

“State Senators John Carona and Dan Patrick-two Republicans, one who fought with me to stop the Trans-Texas Corridor and another who is ideologically my polar opposite in almost every other way-are talking about raising the gas tax being the best solution to the problems we are facing today,” Gilbert continued.

Late last month, Gilbert unveiled a bold, comprehensive transportation reform plan, “Getting Texas Moving Again,” which proposed a modest 8-cent gas tax increase followed by indexing the gas tax to the Highway Cost Index.

FACT SHEET

Legislators Offer Plans Similar To Gilbert; Agree Gas Tax Is Best Alternative

Many lawmakers in Texas agree that a gasoline tax of some form is the best option for funding Transportation infrastructure in Texas:

STATE SEN. JOHN CARONA (R-DALLAS)

“As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, I can attest that the only near-term answer to the transportation funding dilemma we are facing is to raise and index the gas tax. Stopping the diversion of gas tax revenues for other legislative purposes, as is long overdue, will not alone solve the problem.” (Texas Monthly’s Burka Blog, October 21, 2009. [LINK])

STATE SEN. ELLIOT SHAPLEIGH (D-EL PASO)

“Whether it’s gas tax or local option, the result should be that we have enough money to build roads in communities like El Paso.” (Associated Press, November 12, 2009 [LINK])

STATE SEN. DAN PATRICK (R-HOUSTON)

One legislative measure Patrick said he supports is a slight increase to the state’s gas tax, and then an annual increase of one penny. (Dallas Morning News Dallas Transportation Blog, November 10, 2009. [LINK])

STATE REP. JOE PICKETT (D-EL PASO)

Pickett also said that he agrees with the essence of a new proposal that has been taking shape among transportation advocates from major metro areas. It calls for a statewide gas tax PLUS the option for counties to call elections to raise more locally. (Dallas Morning News Dallas Transportation Blog, November 10, 2009. [LINK])

[NOTE: It should be absolutely clear that indicating that Candidate Gilbert and lawmakers cited above are in general agreement on the gas tax increase implies neither that these lawmakers have endorsed Gilbert’s plans or that he endorses any of their specific plans.]

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4 Comments

  1. Appetitus Rationi Pareat says:

    This is a total no-brainer. Given the population growth in this state in the past 20 years and the fact that, at least in the major cities, much of that growth occurred in the exurbs, more and more roads are going to have to be built to get these people from their homes to work to the local mega-strip mall, etc. And that isn’t even bringing inflation into account.

    Our current tax rate is very low (Looks like $0.20 per gallon). That is lower when compared to other major states (i.e. California, New York, Florida, Illinois). It is also lower than those “socialist hotbeds” of Alabama and North Carolina.

    You would think that every major candidate for governor would support such an increase. It’s just simple economics and rational management. But I will be surprised with KBH comes out to support such a move (even if she deep down knows that it is needed). The current Republican Party is dominated by an ideology that is adamant that there should never be higher taxes, for any reason. Can you imagine the hell that the tea party people would raise if she came out for such a thing? Trust me; I know some of these people. They are completely irrational about these kind of things. Even if you try to explain it rationally to them (i.e. these taxes are used to pay for the roads you drive on everyday), they will blame it on corruption or illegals or unions or Obama or socialism…you name it. They are like spoiled children.

  2. eiioi says:

    The Trans-Texas Corridor is off the table (and only TTC segments paralleling 10, 45, 35, 27; something similar is still being considered for I-69), not all tolls. While I fail to see a need for a toll road between San Antonio and El Paso, for instance, in the next 50 years, I’m not sure why toll roads should be off the table.

    Take a look at the biggest road projects (transit would be separate) that Texas will have to undertake (or come up with a viable alternative for) in the next decade:
    -I-635 rebuild with tunnels in North Dallas
    -reworking TX 121 north of DFW airport
    -increasing capacity on I-820 in Fort Worth
    -George Bush turnpike in Dallas
    -increasing capacity of downtown freeways in Dallas including bridge over Trinity River
    -increasing capacity of downtown freeways in Houston
    -increasing capacity on I-45 from BW 8 North to BW 8 South
    -BW 8, NE section
    -Hardy from I-610 to downtown Houston
    -Grand Parkway segments
    -continuing the construction of bypasses of Austin
    -increasing capacity in Lubbock and El Paso
    -increasing capacity on I-35 between San Antonio and DFW
    -I-69

    So with the exception of the last two, what do these all have in common? They are in metro areas, and almost all of them are in DFW or Houston. Toll roads have proven pretty successful in these areas; HCTRA is doing very well and provides enough funding to expand the network and provide new capacity. I think tolls will be a very viable source of funding in the coming years, at least where the money is needed the most. Even if many of these end up not being toll roads, HOT lanes are a definite possibility.

    I am against raising taxes whenever it is avoidable. However, as underfunded as all of these projects are, in addition to small statewide projects and repaving and maintenance work, I think we should at a BARE MINIMUM index the taxes to some construction costs index. That would do two things: ensure that funding to build stays in line with the cost to build (instead of to some arbitrary “basket of goods”) and automatically increase funding year-to-year without people screaming about it every time it happens.

    Maybe Joe Pickett or TxDOT or somebody could get creative to convince the public why we need the increased funding. During committee meeting or in an ad, show a terribly potholed road in the Kirby area. Ask people if they want it repaired in 2010 or in 2018. Tell the public they can either pay $X per year for the repair or $XXXXX per year in damages to their car. Or something like that. Get creative. Convince them. But don’t call them “spoiled children”. I don’t think it’ll help.

  3. Appetitus Rationi Pareat says:

    Well, I am not really in the business of convincing; I was just trying to describe the truth, at least the way I see it. When you ask for more and more stuff, and you are unwilling to pay for it, you are acting like an immature, spoiled child.

    As far as tolls, I would like to see all major point to point highways in the US converted to toll roads. A system similar to what they have in France would be ideal. Then use the fuel tax to fund (a) local road construction and maintenance (along with sidewalks, bike lanes, etc.) and (b) public transportation. Fuel taxes should be indexed to, at the very least, keep up with inflation.

    This would have two benefits. One, it would seriously improve our infrastructure in this country. Our country system is frankly, abysmal. And two, it would begin to influence development in this country by encouraging people to consume less oil. This would in turn have environmental and geo-political benefits for our country.

    But of course this will never happen because the interests benefiting from the status quo are too powerful in this country. This would quickly be painted as a “tax increase” which is the death penalty politically for huge swathes of this country. Not only that, such an idea came form a foreign country (even worse France) which to many nationalistic, brain dead Americans means that it is bad from the start. Again, this is childish nonsense.

  4. eiioi says:

    “When you ask for more and more stuff, and you are unwilling to pay for it, you are acting like an immature, spoiled child.”

    But who is this? If you amalgamate the negative aspects of different people you’ve met into strawmen, it becomes easy to attack them. But it’s not a terribly meaningful victory.

    I’m not saying you do this most of the time here or Tory’s blog or wherever, I’m just saying this shouldn’t be an “us vs. Teapartiers” (or whatever) issue. NOBODY likes potholes or traffic jams twice a day. I think there are a lot of people who would want to pay for improved transportation, but what prevents them from supporting it is:

    1. seeing the government misallocate funds from one thing to another to the point where the original program/agency requires additional tax revenue support it or the original program/agency is bankrupted. A prime example of this would be Social Security. The closer that the tax/fee is tied to a specific expenditure (e.g., vehicle registration going to transportation vs. federal gas tax money being pooled in Washington D.C.), I think the more people would support it.
    2. seeing the government always ask for more money to spend, but cut spending much less often. Sure, taxes are cut in cyclical patterns depending on who’s in office, but spending cuts are not common. Just look at ballot propositions. These are ALWAYS asking voters to increase spending, never for spending cuts, and never for tradeoffs. If voters sometimes had a choice to approve ‘revenue-neutral’ programs, that would restrain out of control spending. E.g. increase gas taxes by $0.20/gal + index to construction costs inflation, but decrease funding to the arts. Then we’d REALLY see what people’s priorities are. Or even a cap on total spending.

    Of course, we also have to deal with:
    3. seeing corruption in government. This causes, rightfully so, a natural distrust in government. I’m not saying it’s always rational, but it is always there to a degree.
    4. and of course, as you said before, opposition to anything and everything. Everything is a tax. Even a toll road. I deal with this a lot too, even with people on “my side”, so I acknowledge it exists. However, a lot of these people that I meet are rarely the ones asking for more stuff from the government.

    Like you, I want to see more toll-financed and direct-user fees for transportation. I don’t know about all U.S. interstates, but I think any new capacity and any urban freeways are good candidates.

    I’d also like to see a fairer tax for trucks. Christof had a post which said that the damage caused to a road is proportional to (vehicle weight)^4, whereas the difference in gas tax between a car and a full 18-wheeler is proportional (vehicle weight)^x where x <= 2.

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