Brokenland Note:
Roman Roads
2 June 2014

¶ We sat up this morning when we reached Joshua Shank’s Op-Ed piece about the fund that pays for the maintenance of Federal highways. According to Shank, the highway fund is about to run out of money, because revenues from the gas tax haven’t kept up with costs, and Congress has rejected rate hikes.

The obvious solution, raising the gas tax, is a political nonstarter. And even if it could pass, Congress would be tempted to direct some or all of that revenue to other purposes, like deficit reduction — it did just that in 1990 and 1993.

In any case, raising the gas tax wouldn’t help in the long run. When America planned the Interstate System in the 1950s, only half the country was urbanized and the number of cars was growing rapidly. Now more than 80 percent of Americans live in metropolitan regions, and total driving has stagnated. Even if we could raise the tax, it would only reinforce an outdated program.

Shank believes that funds ought to come from general revenues — the income tax. That’s not what captures our attention. It’s willingness to keep the fund solvent, in an ongoing way and not as a matter of quick fixes, that we’ll be watching for. We’ll be surprised to see it.

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