Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Transportation Bills & Gas Taxes

Looks like the T4 folks have been making some serious headway. They've got the highway lobby all riled up which is a good thing.

“If the bill starts looking more negative on highways, then users that have been supportive of fuel tax increases would turn their back on it,” said Greg Cohen, chief executive of the American Highway Users Alliance. “There is potential that the whole bill could be slowed down here.”

The major sticking point is funding. If more trust fund money is directed to transit projects, then trucking and highway groups will complain about the fairness of using their fees to pay for rail projects. They especially reject a unified transportation trust fund that would pay for all surface transportation out of the same pot of money.

Fairness? You want to talk about fairness? How fair is it to have your mode of transportation subsidized to an uneven degree over the last 60 years. I think Ryan nails it in his Streetsblog post.

In the first place, gas tax revenue comes nowhere near paying for roads. Federal gasoline tax revenues cover barely half of the annual budget of the Federal Highway Administration. Add in diesel tax revenues and you’re still short. And that’s just the federal budget picture.
I think this is an important point. All modes are subsidized, but to the extent that we can put transit on a more even footing we must. The trucking industry has gotten off too easily since the interstate highway system was completed. It was a major reason why rail shipping was killed to almost dead, since the railroads had to pay taxes on their ROW and trucks did not.

But I'm glad Secretary LaHood gets it. As least in words. And the fact that he has a somewhat more receptive president means that this is a totally different ball game. Though in some ways it's similar to that of the Bush and Clinton years that Norm Minetta was in town for:

We returned to the Oval Office, went through the presentation, and afterward President Bush said, "Norm, that's a tax increase. Get that out." So I then took all the unobligated surplus, left $1 billion in the highway trust fund, and used the balance to build a $267 billion surface transportation program that Congress finally passed in 2005. Not long after, the administration asked for an $8 billion infusion of general funds into the highway trust fund so it wouldn't be running a deficit by 2007.


Jay Heikes said...

PT: have you seen the current SAFETEA-LU changes that are proposed? APTA has them. One of them is changing the New Starts criteria to include all 6 categories instead of just the 2.

Faith said...

These were the highlights I found:

"The guidance proposes to set the weights at 20 percent each for the mobility, cost-effectiveness, land use, and economic development criteria, and 10 percent each for the operating efficiencies and environmental benefits criteria for New Starts projects."
- Can anyone refresh my memory - What are the current ratios?

"Each of the three project justification criteria for Small Starts (land use, economic development and cost-effectiveness)
would be set at a third each."

"The Act further states that the
Secretary of Transportation shall
analyze, evaluate, and consider the
congestion relief, improved mobility,and other benefits of tunnels in transitprojects that include a transit tunnel, ...or where a transit tunnel was one of the alternatives analyzed."

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I think that guidance was killed in a fall appropriations bill. I'm not sure a new one will come out till the transport bill is complete. But they might be working on one now.

Faith, before all of these things fed into two categories I believe. I'll have to check it again. Here's the 2009 Guidance. I think that APTA might have had the link to the old one...


Jay Heikes said...

I think APTA has the updated one- the dates within the summary document (longer title) are for June 09. At least I hope this is the case.