America’s roads do need a massive overhaul. The highways and bridges were built decades ago are showing the wear and tear.
But a proposal in Congress to fund transportation improvements with a 45 percent increase in the gasoline tax (another 15 cents a gallon bringing the total to 33.4 cents) is poorly timed.
One of the reasons the nation’s economic recovery seems to be occurring at a glacial pace is because the price of gasoline has bounced between $3 and $4 per gallon for years. (Usually closer to $4 than $3.) Filling up a car, truck or SUV is usually over $70 and often over $100.
Many families are easily spending $500 or more a month on fuel, which means there’s less money to spend elsewhere. This is occuring as Big Oil — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell — are making record profits. Big Oil reported $23 billion in combined profits for the third quarter of 2013. This isn’t an aberration. ExxonMobil’s profit alone in 2012 was $44.9 billion, just $300 million short of breaking the record for the highest annual corporate profit (set by, no surprise, ExxonMobil in 2008).
The proposed 15 cent a gallon tax was announced last week by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
“Congress hasn’t dealt seriously with the funding issue for 20 years,” Blumenauer said. “With inflation and increased fuel efficiency, especially for some types of vehicles, there is no longer a good relationship between what road users pay and how much they benefit. The average motorist is paying about half as much per mile as they did in 1993.”
That’s true. However, when people are dropping hundreds of dollars a month on gasoline it is irrelevant to them what the tax rate was 20 years ago. What matters to them right now is that their paychecks are stretched thin by fuel costs.
Gasoline has become essential to our lives like water and electricity.
Meanwhile, the state of Washington is looking at raising its share of the gasoline tax (perhaps 10 cents a gallon) to fund road woes here.
The burden on American wage earners, most of whom have received meager (or no raises) for the past five years, would simply be too much given the current economic conditions.
The nation’s roads can’t be ignored, but neither can current economic realities. The timing is bad for a 45 percent increase in the federal gasoline tax.