I don’t suppose it will do any good, but the current Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, and no less than eleven of his predecessors in that job, have sent a letter to Congressional leaders saying, in effect, “Stop your goddam partisan foolishness and do something about a comprehensive, long-term solution for funding the restoration of this country’s transportation infrastructure.” There’s a long list of reasons to be upset with the current partisan paralysis in Washington, but that one’s got to be close to the top.
The gasoline tax was supposed to fund construction and maintenance of our highway system, but Congress made a fundamental mistake when the tax was created: they set a specific amount for the tax — x-number of cents per gallon — rather than setting the tax as a certain percentage of whatever the retail price of gas happens to be. Generating additional money for the Highway Trust Fund thus became a matter of “raising taxes” and in the current anti-tax climate, that hasn’t happened.
As a result, in recent years, revenue from the gas tax has only been covering about half the cost of building and fixing roads. Now we’ve hit bottom, and it comes at a time when our transportation infrastructure is in dire straights from years of neglect. Roads and highways from coast to coast (and here in Hawaii, too) are inadequate and often maintenance and repairs have to be postponed.
But it’s not just highways. Want to talk about bridges? Depending on whom you listen to, there are something like 60,000 bridges in this country that have been neglected for years and are potentially unsafe. This bridge outside of Minneapolis was really unsafe!
Then there’s the new, but not-ready-for-primetime air traffic control system we’ve been hearing about for a number of years and which is badly needed. No money to implement it.
And, of course, there’s Amtrak, scraping by on whatever federal support is left over after Republicans in Congress finish beating up the railroad’s executives in various hearings. Our national passenger rail system is running equipment that’s as much as 40 years old, and even so, there’s not nearly enough to meet the demand. But — sorry — no money for adequate replacements.
We can only hope that Congress will sit up and notice that among these former secretaries of transportation are several knowledgeable, responsible and rational Republicans, as well as others who served under Republican presidents. All agree it’s a crisis. And they have one, unified, simple non-partisan message for Congress: Suck it up … and do your damn job!
Too much to hope for? Maybe. But here’s my suggestion for a way out that will provide some political cover for the House Republicans: first, adequately fund our transportation infrastructure by raising revenue from new taxes and user fees. Next, take political credit for the improvements. And, finally, blame Obama for the new taxes.