Op-Ed: User Fees, Not General Funds, Should Fund Transportation

The Washington Post editorializes against the use of general funds to fill the Highway Trust Fund shortfall ($18 billion annually), whether they be dedicated funds or offsets, and evaluates proposals from President Barack Obama and House Republicans.

2 minute read

June 6, 2014, 5:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


Bay Bridge Toll

Ann Baldwin / Shutterstock

In contrast to a recent op-ed that advocated using dedicated general funds revenue to fund transportation (posted here) and one senator's proposal to insist that use of general funds be offsetted, this editorial strongly makes the case for relying on user fees as has been the case since 1956.

"It is both efficient and fair to require drivers to pay according to the amount they exploit and degrade the roads," writes The Washington Post Editorial Board. "This discourages overuse rather than subsidizing big-time road users," they add.

The smart and obvious way to fund federal transportation policy is to create a steady, long-term funding source to finance multi-year projects, one that relies on fees from users — such as a higher gas tax or a vehicle-miles tax.

"The latest news is that House Republican leaders are drawing up a measly one-year trust fund fix [also posted here: "Buy a Stamp—Patch a Highway?"], which would conveniently push tough revenue choices past this year’s election," they write. However, Politico's Adam Snider indicates that's a no-go in the Senate - from at least one powerful Republican.

"I know they're trying to come up with a way to do this on a short-term basis. Ultimately we've got to get to a longer-term solution," Senate Commerce ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) told MT.

The editorial is more direct, stating that House Republicans would take 10 years of savings (by ending Saturday delivery) "to pay for that one year of proposed highway spending," showing just how great a strain transportation is on the federal budget compared to other services.

President Obama's funding proposal, the Grow America Act, actually meets Sen. John Thune's criteria by providing four years of funding with a "one-time windfall from corporate tax reform," though it would not make for "smart transportation policy."

In fact, the editorial supports the funding mechanism of both proposals, i.e. ending Saturday postal service and corporate tax reform, but it opposes using them "to jury-rig the highway budget with unrelated 'offsets'". The editorial concludes with this warning:

If the nation’s leaders are too cowardly to make obvious policy choices this year, they will have to develop some backbone before the next self-imposed transportation funding crisis. At the rate we’re going, that won’t be so long from now.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 in The Washington Post - Opinions

Satalite image of a bright green lake surrounded by brownish-green land

California’s Largest Natural Lake Turns Green With … Algae

A potentially toxic algal bloom has turned Clear Lake in Northern California bright green, fed by increased runoff from human activity.

June 4, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

Three colorful, large beachfront homes, one khaki, one blue, and one yellow, with a small dune in front and flat sand in foreground.

Florida Homeowners 'Nope Out' of Beach Restoration Over Public Access

The U.S. Corps of Engineers and Redington Shores, Florida are at a standstill: The Corps won’t spend public money to restore private beaches, and homeowners are refusing to grant public access to the beaches behind their home in return for federal assistance.

June 7, 2024 - Grist

Multistory apartment building under construction.

New Tennessee Law Allows No-Cost Incentives for Affordable Housing

Local governments in the Volunteer State can now offer developers incentives like increased density, lower parking requirements, and priority permitting for affordable housing projects.

June 10, 2024 - Nooga Today

Delivery drone holding a brown paper wrapped box hoveringin air with city in background.

Utah Establishes Air Mobility Framework

The program outlines a statewide approach to delivery drones and other air transportation options.

45 minutes ago - PR Newswire

Amtrak train at Union Station with Chicago skyline in background.

St. Paul-to-Chicago Borealis Rail Line Launches

The Amtrak service, 12 years in the making, doubles the number of available trips on the corridor.

1 hour ago - Route Fifty

Three men riding recumbent bikes on paved greenway next to bayou with Houston skyline in background.

Houston Developers Question Mayor’s Stance on Pedestrian Projects

The new mayor’s reversal of road safety projects, some already underway or completed, is raising eyebrows among developers who say residents want walkable, mixed-use streets.

3 hours ago - Houston Chronicle

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.