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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ross Rambles: We need more gas tax

Thursday, May 22, 2008

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During a visit to Cherokee this week, Maureen Wilson, aide to U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, underscored the deterioration of highways and bridges across America.

Wilson's visit was primarily to gather input prior to finalizing language on a transportation bill that Harkin is sponsoring. She heard from Larry Clark, county engineer, that the bridges in Cherokee County are getting old and she commented that she is hearing the same story across the state.

We are also hearing the same story across the country. The fatal bridge collapse last year in Minnesota could be a wake up call to take care of our transportation infrastructure and do so soon.

The longer we delay, the more likely there we will have to endure further deadly lessons. Also, deteriorated roads and bridges result in a cost to each of us in terms of increased fuel usage and more wear on vehicles.

So, in light of these needs, some of our politicians propose a temporary elimination of the federal gas tax that pays for transportation infrastructure. Does that make sense?

In fairness to Hillary Clinton, she is proposing that the resulting shortfall in revenue be made up by a corporate tax on the oil companies. However, that seems to be a cumbersome bureaucratic approach for replacement of a tax to be temporarily suspended.

The suspension of the federal gas tax now seems unlikely, since citizens are not impressed by the idea of a temporary elimination of 18 cents in tax on gas that is pushing toward $4 a gallon. As is often the case, the public is more intelligent than their elected leaders.

And what is the point in a reduction that is temporary? Does that mean there is an expectation that gas prices will go down at the end of the summer?

Actually, that is a possibility. Part of the upward pressure on gas prices results from speculation. Eventually an investment speculation bubble will burst and prices will fall but the most optimistic predictions call for a fall of only about 50 cents or so. We'll not likely ever again see gas under $3 a gallon.

Although the public was not enthusiastic about a suspension of the federal gas tax, the proposal makes it difficult to now shift to a discussion on the need for an increase in the gas tax. However, such a tax is needed, maybe an additional 18 cents in either new federal or a combination of federal and state tax increases.

Admittedly, that number was just pulled out of the air. The actual tax needed should be a matter of study and public discourse. Unfortunately, such discourse has been overshadowed by consideration of a tax reduction assisting in reducing fuel costs.

It will take another tragedy to again make transportation infrastructure improvement a priority.