16 Nov 2009, 12:30pm
Gas taxes:

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The man who gets it

(Note: Sorry about the dearth of posts last week– I was sick most of the week.)

Late last week, state¬†Senator John Carona (R-Dallas), who chairs the Senate’s Transportation and Homeland Security committee, proposed¬†a 10 cent increase in the state’s gas tax to bolster dwindling funding for roads. (Express-News story)

This, my friends, shows real courage and a real understanding of the transportation funding crisis that has lead to the plethora of toll road projects around the state.

As I wrote in a pair of previous posts (starting here), the underlying issue that is driving TxDOT and local agencies to toll roads (no pun intended) is that the gas tax has not been increased since 1991.¬† As a flat tax, its value has been whittled away by inflation and improved MPG over the past two decades.¬† Therefore, TxDOT simply no longer has the income required to build projects at today’s costs.

Increasing the gas tax is the logical first step.  Mr. Carona also takes the important second step, which is to index the gas tax to inflation going forward.  This at least helps it tread water as its value will be fixed to real world economics.

As I discussed earlier, the necessary solution¬†is a tripod of fixes, the first two legs being those¬†strategies mentioned above.¬† The third leg of the tripod¬†is to end diversions of the gas tax to non-transportation uses.¬† I know Mr. Carona also supports that, although he didn’t specifically mention it in his latest proposal.

And it’s not just Mr. Carona who “gets it”.¬† Local¬†state Sentator¬†Jeff Wentworth also does, and sadly took a beating when he tried to explain this to the mob¬†at the recent MPO vote on dropping toll proposals for 281 and 1604.

As expected, Governor Perry immediately came out against Carona’s proposal.¬† I typically agree with Perry on most issues,¬†but¬†his hard-line¬†no-new-taxes stance is the absolutely wrong¬†position to take here.¬† Hopefully he’ll see the light if it passes the Leg in 2011 and¬†he’s still in office.

Now, while I’m all for Carona’s fixes, let me add a new caveat: these really are only temporary measures.¬† With¬†fuel-economy set to improve substantially¬†over the next decade, the gas tax will simply become obsolete, or will have to be increased to unsustainable levels.¬† The ultimate¬†solution is going to have to be some sort of mileage-based tax.¬† Testing on several such¬†systems is already underway.¬† However, because these systems typically track the vehicle’s location in order to determine distance traveled, there are privacy concerns despite the fact that¬†the systems reportedly don’t actually store that tracking information, just the accrued distances.¬† But proving that to the legion of government cynics and even just the¬†average Joe who is sincerely concerned¬†about Big Brother will be pretty much impossible.¬† However, I will tell you that, from what I’ve read, you have more to worry about from Google than you do the currently proposed mileage-tax tracking systems.¬† But that’s a discussion for another time.


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