Gas tax increase of $1.09? More TxDOT scare tactics to push tolls

Link to article here. We must be winning if such absolute drivel is considered news.

OK, let’s do a math lesson…TxDOT’s state gas tax revenues have gone up 178% over the last 20 years (and that’s adjusted for inflation and population). Just since Rick Perry took office their budget has more than doubled (gone up 117%) WITHOUT RAISING YOUR TAXES. We’ve had repeated state budget surpluses and are on track for even bigger surpluses in 2007. TxDOT has $7 billion (that’s BILLION with a “B”) in mobility and revenue bonds right now today to build roads and accelerate projects. These guys are flush with cash and they have the audacity to promote tax increases! It’s wasteful spending and the building of more expensive toll roads that are sucking up all our hard-earned taxes. We’re NOT taxed too little, they’re spending too much.

Then consider we currently pay 38 cents a gallon (20 cents for the state tax) and they want to double that, even increase it over 300% if it’s closer to $1.09 increase. Also consider nearly $10 billion in our state gas taxes have been diverted to frivolous earmarks, that every single toll road costs more to build and maintain than non-toll roads, and that even Rick Perry admits their dollar figures they call “needs” are actually “wish lists” comprised if money were no object (which clearly money is always a factor), and it’s not hard to see these figures are completely bankrupt of rationality. What on earth do these guys think they need to build? We’ve already completed our entire interstate highway system and our state highway system, if anything we should be cutting back our road building, not increasing it.

You’d think Driscoll would include these FACTS in his reporting rather than grant a stitch of ink to such blatant scare tactics by the pro-tollers in their attempt to beat back our obvious momentum in defeating Perry’s version of toll roads. They can’t win with the truth or on the merits of their arguments, instead they try to spew blatant falsehoods and propaganda to prop up their schemes. Bottom line: even at these OUTLANDISH figures, the gas tax system (currently 1-3 cents a mile) is still far less expensive than tolls of 25 cents up to $1.00 a mile (per TxDOT’s own studies), especially toll rates in the hands of a private company.

Anytime you increase the cost of transportation it’s bad for the economy. With the cost of building and maintaining roads going up 30%, and if you take their argument that they don’t have the money to maintain our current road system, then why on earth build even more that we can’t sustain? Clearly the road lobby is pushing to build more roads, especially toll roads that require a larger footprint than non-toll roads (thus more to maintain as well) and continue this cycle of tax and spend. Enough will NEVER be enough for these hogs at the trough and WE the taxpayers have to demand accountability, sensible, fically constrained transportation planning, and insist on a sustainable highway system that won’t bankrupt consumers and businesses alike. Let’s not forget last year’s federal highway bill with more than 6,000 earmarks including a $223 million bridge to nowhere in Alaska. There’s plenty of money in gas taxes, so much they can divert hundreds of millions if not billions to frivolous pet projects. Seems the overwhelming public consensus is to stop diverting our current transportation funds to pork barrel spending and we could expand and maintain our highways just fine.

Toll-road rejection may spark big gas-tax jump
By Patrick Driscoll

If the idea of paying tolls to drive on future highway lanes in San Antonio turns your stomach, perhaps you could swallow a higher gas tax instead.
How about adding 38.2 cents a gallon, or as much as $1.09, on top of the 38.4-cent tax that motorists pay now.

That’s what Texas Department of Transportation officials came up with recently when they estimated how high the gas tax would have to go in Bexar County to widen 70 miles of highways without tolling the new lanes.

The difference is whether motorists everywhere in the county pay a new gas tax of 1 to 2 cents a mile, depending on vehicle miles per gallon, or if only drivers using the new lanes pay a toll of 15 to 20 cents a mile.

Neither is all that palatable.

“People are getting squeezed, especially the middle class,” said Stone Oak resident Jerry Zimmermann, who lives near the nexus of a planned North Side tollway network. “There’s no relief coming.”

Zimmermann has at least two layers of protection against a local gas tax increase — state legislators and voters would have to approve it. However, he has only one line of defense against toll lanes that could be added to U.S. 281, Loop 1604, Bandera Road, Interstate 35 and the junction of Wurzbach Parkway and U.S. 281 — he simply could avoid them.

“If anything, I think we need to consider mass transit. I haven’t heard anybody talking about that,” Zimmerman said, adding that passenger rail might justify a tax increase.

The low-ball estimate of 38.2 cents a gallon would raise $231 million a year (in estimated 2026 dollars), or almost $9.3 billion over 40 years.

That’s enough to pay off $2.2 billion worth of road bonds (in 2004 dollars), which projected toll fees otherwise would finance, and spend $30 million a year to maintain the new lanes.

Another $800 million, either from other taxes or private investments, still would be needed.

TxDOT argues it would be cheaper to sell bonds and build now because global demand for asphalt, cement and steel has forced up prices for those materials much faster than inflation in recent years and likely will continue. State highway construction costs went up 33 percent last year alone.

“You’re making money if you go ahead and do it now,” said David Casteel, who oversees TxDOT’s office in San Antonio.

The lower estimate assumes that driving nearly doubles over four decades, average fuel efficiency doesn’t get higher than 37 mpg, borrowing rates hover around 6.5 percent, all proceeds are spent on the roads and only 5 percent of motorists abscond to other counties to buy gas.

The jump of $1.09 a gallon assumes that driving increases just half as fast, fuel efficiency more than doubles to 50 mpg, borrowing rates get up to 7.5 percent, 40 percent of revenues are diverted to schools, mass transit and other uses — a third is currently diverted, including 25 percent to public education — and one in five motorists slip off to other counties to buy gas.

“There’s an unlimited number of scenarios you can analyze,” Casteel said.

At least one toll critic isn’t completely sold on TxDOT’s estimates.

Bill Barker, a transportation consultant and former VIA Metropolitan Transit planner who advises San Antonio Toll Party, wishes officials would look for ways to reduce how much people drive, such as creating neighborhoods friendlier to mass transit and walking, and consider cheaper ways to get more traffic moving on existing streets, such as adding turn lanes, timing traffic lights better or replacing signal lights with roundabouts.

“We’re growing and we need to be smart about how we address our transportation options,” he said. “The most expensive might not be the best.”

It seems there are an unlimited number of opinions about tolls roads.

“They’re fine, especially if you live out there (North Loop 1604),” said Jennifer Garcia, adding that toll roads won’t ease her commute from near the Medical Center to her job downtown. “If it’s going to alleviate problems over there, and everybody’s happy, then they’re fine.”

“They suck,” said Merlin O’Brien, who lives at Canyon Lake and uses U.S. 281 for his treks to San Antonio. “I don’t think we need toll roads.”

The gas tax idea doesn’t have steady legs either.

“Nobody wants taxes raised at all,” Garcia said.

Gas station owners say a local gas tax would scare away customers to other counties, and collecting the tax would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

“We would obviously have to oppose that,” said Scott Fisher, a spokesman with the Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, whose members own, operate or supply about 16,000 retail outlets.

O’Brien said he might be convinced if there was a way to ensure the money was spent as promised. And, he said, he still would buy gas in San Antonio even if it were 38 cents higher than other cities.

“Wherever I need it,” he said. “You always need gas.”