Not sure if there was any real need to bring Zeppelin into this, but Nikki Kelly has an article in the Journal Gazette entitled “Road Work Funds Low on Fuel.”
Receipts from the state gas tax are lower than they’ve been since 2000, costs to maintain roads and bridges have not gone down, and things are falling apart. Meanwhile, there is talk in Indianapolis about a “surplus.” I could probably generate a surplus in my household too if I just stopped paying for stuff; never mind the roof falling in.
Apparently this has been an issue for quite a while but cities and towns have mainly kept quiet in the face of ugly budgetary constraints at the state level. But, now that there’s talk of refunding the “surplus” without taking a close look at maintenance needs, there might be a bit of a dust up.
One problem seems to be that the gas tax used to maintain roads has stayed flat at 18 cents per gallon while vehicles have become more fuel efficient — in other words, drivers have been taxed less per mile driven. It’s good to encourage fuel efficiency, but at the same time, you have to pay for this stuff.
There is also apparently an issue with a state agency having budgetary increases that have been relatively small but which have been paid for out of a fund traditionally reserved for actual road expenditures. But revenues for that fund have been flat as well, leading to a net loss in money available for roads.
There is some squabbling between state and local officials about whose taxes ought to be raised to pay for the roads — local roads, local taxes say the state officials. The state gas tax is paid by locals, why shouldn’t it all be spent on local needs respond the local officials. No one wants to be seen as raising taxes.
This particularly caught my interest because I’m about 80% through a book by Earl Swift called Big Roads: The untold story of the engineers, visionaries, and trailblazers who created the American Superhighways. First of all, the condition of the roads in the early 20th century were horrible. The invisible hand of the free market had done nothing to create good roads. They were mostly impassable sludge when it rained, for example. Ultimately, it took government and a lot of it to create our road system. According to Swift, motorists of the time welcomed the gasoline tax. It undoubtedly helped that the advent of the gas tax coincided with a drop in the price of gasoline; but the “gas taxes seemed puny next to the progress they bankrolled.” People of the time were aware of the condition of the roads in the absence of those gas taxes.
People today just have no concept of truly miserable roads. And, to make matters worse, even while motorists are paying somewhat less per mile in taxes, the cost of gasoline itself has been rising quickly; meaning any sense of saving is simply wiped out. Makes me wonder what we could have accomplished if, back when gas was a dollar or two, if we had taxed it up to $2.50 or $3 – which we’re paying now – whether we could have built up our road funds or our public transportation infrastructure. Now we’re paying that much, but it’s mostly going to gas companies for their product.