Governors Blame Congress for Failure to Sustain Highway Trust Fund

Bipartisan governors faulted Congress for failing to find long-term funds for the Highway Trust Fund, but how do their state records match their rhetoric aimed at raising federal gas taxes? Planetizen looks at some of the governors cited in the WSJ.

3 minute read

July 15, 2014, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Democrat and Republican governors attending the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Nashville "said Congress should consider increasing the gas tax to provide a more reliable revenue stream for the Highway Trust Fund," write Peter Nicholas and Siobhan Hughes of The Wall Street Journal. "They also called for finding ways to ensure that electric and fuel-efficient vehicles help pay the costs of maintaining the nation's roads," they add, with one suggestion being a mileage-based usage fee.

But wait. It's easy to cast blame on federal legislators for failing to raise gas taxes since 1993. We've covered how difficult it is to raise state gas taxes on these pages. Let's take a look a look at how some of the governors cited in the article match up to their own actions in providing sustainable state transportation funding.

Asked if he was confident that Congress would come up with a long-term solution, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie said: "I don't have confidence in anything that goes on in Washington, D.C., right now.

As we noted in April, a New Jersey newspaper found that "(a)s an alternative to raising the nation's second lowest gas tax...Gov. Christie diverted toll revenue from the Port Authority and used them for state-owned facilities." New Jersey's 14.5-cent gas tax hasn't been raised in 23.8 years according to the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).

Gov. Jack Markell, a Delaware Democrat, said that even comparatively small bike-path projects can take a long time to complete. "These transportation projects take years," Mr. Markell said.

Delaware has not increased its 23-cent gas tax in almost 20 years. However, Markell has been pushing for a 10-cent gas tax increase, striving unsuccessfully for bi-partisan support, as we noted here and here.

"There has to be, both at the state and national level, a real look at an equitable funding formula where the users—regardless of the kind of vehicle it is—hybrid, electric or natural gas—pay their fair share," said Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.

Only last month, we posted, "Iowa Gov. Rules Out Taxes, Fees, and Tolls to Fund Transportation Projects." Nuff said.

"It's stupid is what it is," said Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat [referring to the patch bills.] "If you can fix it for [the spring of 2015] why can't you fix it for a longer period of time? It's brinkmanship."

Connecticut was one of eight states that increased its gas tax last year due to "automatic indexing of a tax applied on gasoline sold at the wholesale level," as we noted last year. That increase went into effect despite a statewide attempt to stop it. In 2012, Connecticut capped the amount of the increase.

Congress certainly deserves blame for seemingly giving up on a six-year fix to the Highway Trust Fund, such as the tax increases proposed in the Corker-Murphy plan and by Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Rep. Peter DeFazio. However, governors might wish to look at their own state records before casing blame.

Correspondent's note: Link to Wall Street Journal article may provide full access to non-subscribers through July 21.

Monday, July 14, 2014 in The Wall Street Journal

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