Now that we have finally fixed the FAA funding problem, another major funding bill is expiring and will need to be reauthorized or readjusted on September 30th.
The Federal Gasoline Tax collects 18.4 percent per gallon of gas and 24.4 percent per gallon of diesel and pays for a majority of our transportation and highway projects across the country. But the reality is that it is yet another tax on Americans and we all know that the Tea Party Congress doesn't like that. This time the public is behind them. In a May survey Rasmussen Reports found that 44 percent of Americans favor eliminating the federal gas tax, but those numbers are actually down from 60 percent in early 2008 when gas prices were through the roof.
Interestingly, however, most people (60 percent) believe the gas tax goes up every year according to a 2009 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey, but the reality is it hasn't moved since 1993. That shouldn't preclude the tea party from taking another hard stance against taxes and spending. After all our government is hurting and we need to make drastic cuts, right? Sacrifices? Taxes like these prevent businesses from doing business because they pay such a huge amount in transportation each year. I can see the arguments developing as I type.
In a surly unrelated story, two tea loving members of Congress are taking their own action on transportation funding. Rep. James Lankford and Sen. Tom Coburn, both from Oklahoma, have authored a bill that would opt states out of all federal highway and mass transit funding. The State Transportation and Flexibility Act would leave the revenue earned from the gas tax to the states to decide how to use it. The Oklahoma leaders aren't the only gas tax foes, 13 additional Senators and 23 members of Congress have signed onto the bill. This includes seven members of the Tea Party Caucus and Rep. Ron Paul.
In a graphic done by ESRI, counties across the country are highlighted if they have "structurally deficient bridges." In Coburn and Lankford's state a full third of the counties have over a hundred bridges categorized as deficient. But Senator Coburn believes “Washington’s addiction to spending has bankrupted the Highway Trust Fund."
If states can opt out of the health insurance reform bill - why can't they opt out of all federal funding and federal programs. Isn't this the kind of secessionist attitude that Texas Governor Rick Perry has? If the Coburn/Lankford bill passed would it then mean that a renewal of the gas tax is unnecessary and require states to set their own gas taxes? If that happened states with larger populations and higher gas tax revenue could have lower gas taxes and smaller states that are more rural would need to raise enough taxes for their infrastructure programs. Businesses that have a higher need for transporting goods or services might then relocate to states with lower gas prices. The alternative is states that couldn't afford their programs could opt to allow their roads and bridges to fall into disrepair.
Additionally, if Congress doesn't renew the gas tax the results might be just as gloomy. Thousands of contract and construction workers on existing projects might not get paid, and it's doubtful they'd stick around working for free assuming the re-authorization will be there down the road. Projects could come to a grinding halt across the country.
It is unclear how Lankford or Coburn feel about pot-holes or how they would respond if one of these deficient bridges collapsed in the Oklahoma heat that was blamed for a recent buckling of a steel expansion joint on I-44. A few years ago when a bridge collapsed in Oklahoma it was federal money that came in to help fix it. The problem with this thinking is that our interstate system is so-called because it's multi-state. It goes across more than one state and connects us all together. Let's not forget that the highway system was originally built for national defense because we didn't have the logistics to move equipment where it needed to go. We're not an island, and the infrastructure problems on the Mississippi might not be in Oklahoma, but it impacts the water flowing into the state that is used by farmers for irrigation.
We are one country - one team - and we're all in it together.