Lawmakers salivate at raising taxes for transportation

Link to article here.

In case you’re like me and had to rub your eyes and re-focus on the text to make sure I’m reading this right, some of our politicians are clearly drinking the tax-and-spend Kool-Aid that afflicts most politicos when they’ve been wined and dined sufficiently by lobbyists who demand more tax money for their industries.

We have a global economic crisis fueled by high gas prices that are subsequently driving up the cost of necessities like food. We have riots and food rationing around the globe, including in our own country. We have all time high home foreclosures, a mortgage and credit crisis, and these politicians have the unmitigated gall to champion not only gas tax hikes, but also the MOST expensive transportation tax, toll roads! They’ve LOST THEIR MINDS! The best solution: throw the bums out so they can return to the real world and be reminded of what it’s like to EARN a living in these tough economic times.

Toll roads, higher gas taxes predicted
By Patrick Driscoll

AUSTIN — When it comes to the big picture, two ranking members of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, one Republican and the other Democrat, were on the same page in separate speeches Monday.Building toll roads and leasing some to private corporations will be needed to keep traffic moving on the nation’s highways, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., told more than 1,000 people at the Texas Transportation Forum.

But so will higher gas taxes, though the pair differed on how.

Johnson said the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal tax needs to go up at least a nickel and that states need to boost rates, too.

“We know there’s got to be an increase in the gas tax eventually,” she said.

Mica said the tax probably should be calibrated to rise with an inflation index and that a per-mile tax then should be phased in within a decade using vehicle-tracking technologies.

“Oh yeah, I think you’re going to have to do that,” he said.

Both talks hit on all cylinders for a crowd made up mostly of government and industry officials hungry to hear how more funds can be poured into transportation.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which held the forum, recently retrenched and targeted nearly all its gas tax and fee collections into maintenance.

“The reality is, we’re in a difficult financial situation,” TxDOT Assistant Director Phil Russell said at an afternoon session. “Right now, across the state, any addition in capacity is probably going to have to be looked at as toll lanes.”

Toll roads and privatization are at least part of the answer, said Johnson, who’s been working with a handful of members of Congress from Texas since last year to come up with a bipartisan list of recommendations.

“We cannot see how it can be done with just tax dollars,” she said.

Mica, who’s calling for a national vision and policy for transportation, said all funding options must be weighed.

Congress should consider taxes and fees, innovative financial packaging and public-private partnerships to harvest $1.5 trillion for the next five-year transportation bill, which is due next year, he said.

Such a bill would be five times larger than the current law.

“Hang in there, baby, you’ll see,” Mica said. “I think we can do it.”


Toll roads, education and wood chips
Toll-road warriors camped out at the Texas Transportation Forum through today spent due time fretting over why toll proposals ignite public uproars, and brainstormed on ways to soothe tempers.

The elusive balm is education, not to be confused with advocacy, they insisted. If people only knew how little funding there is to build and maintain roads for growing traffic, they’d jump on board to help find answers.

“Frankly, we neglected the public education aspect of it from the beginning,” said U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, a forum speaker who’s served on the House transportation committee since 1993.

Her colleague on the committee, and also a speaker at the forum, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., had a different take. He said elected leaders need some lessons in transportation realities, and that will include the next president.

“Members of Congress do not know anything,” he said. “Let’s start with that.”

Mica said the current crop in Washington is too myopic, but nevertheless he’s beaming with hope, in part because this year’s elections will plant some new seeds.

“I’ve got a whole new cast of characters,” he said after his Monday night talk. “Bush will be back here in Crawford chopping wood.”

Speaking at lunch: Bush’s old buddy Gov. Rick Perry.