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Infrastructure Repair Finance Faces Big Brother

By Henry Allred  Posted by Henry Allred (about the submitter)     Permalink
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New federal transportation recommendations endorse tax by the mile and a 40 cent per gallon raise in the fuel tax

On Jan 17, 2008 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reviewed a report entitled the National Surface Transportation and revenue study. The report detailed the recommendations of a bipartisan commission convened to investigate the condition of the transportation infrastructure of the United States.

The committee found that the condition of our infrastructure in the US is poor and, rapidly degenerating. The study found, unsurprisingly, that the infrastructure of the US is degrading due to a lack of investment since the Eisenhower administration’s, Federal Highway Act. 

It went on to outline a three-prong strategy to pay for required improvements to our infrastructure.  The first is to increase the federal gas tax 5-8 cents per gallon per year for the next 5 years. The second is to loosen restrictions on state and local governments to allow private interests (read corporate interests) to make capitol investments in public infrastructure.  The third is to require all new vehicles be equipped with a GPS tracking module that would allow the federal government to charge a VMTF (Vehicle Miles Traveled Fee) surcharge whenever the vehicle is moving.

I doubt that few citizens in this county would argue that our infrastructure is not in need of upgrades and repairs. However, I would argue that American taxpayers, not private interests, should finance those upgrades.

This may seem a harsh remedy, but inviting corporations to finance our infrastructure is a dangerous road to travel. This scheme has been attempted in southern California and elsewhere with disastrous effects. In all of the cases of which I am aware the Business interests of this nation have only been interested in making that investment if in their contracts, they where awarded guarantees that the public would not build competing roadways or that they would not upgrade the existing roads. This has lead to gridlock, lost productivity and wasted tax dollars.

Secondly, there are issues with GPS tracking to implement the VMTF that the plan would phase in by 2025. The concept behind this funding strategy is somewhat forward thinking in that the report estimated that, as fossil fuels continue to increase in price due to production costs, the nation will be forced to turn to alternative fuel sources.  Since no clear universal alternative fuel has yet emerged from the pack, the report found that it could not predict a tax structure for an as-of-yet undecided fuel. To this end, the committee recommended that the VMTF be instituted as an alternative tax system.

The inherent problem with this taxation strategy is an issue of personal privacy. The government has rarely shied away from using a new technological tool against citizens. In 2006, Philadelphia tried to require all cabs to install GPS dispatching units. The city then planned to use the units to generate fines against cab drivers for speeding or refusing to take fares in dangerous neighborhoods. 

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I agree that the tax burden must be shifted as motor fuel changes.  But, would it not be better to wait until that fuel develops rather than give Big Brother another road into your life?

I do agree that the National Surface Transportation and Revenue Study conclusions are in fact correct. However I would also contend that this infusion should be funded by the 25-40 cent increase in gas taxes indexed for inflation through 2025. The unfortunate consequence of this would likely be a guaranteed gasoline pump price of $4.50 by 2013 and likely range $5.00-$5.50 a gallon.  


Philadelphia Cabs Strike Against GPS Spying

Toll Roads, Privatization, and Taxes Part II

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House of represenatives Transportation committee

Final Report of the The National Surface Transportation and Revenue Study Commission


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