To the editor:
The filibuster is over but the lesson lives on.
Incredible as it seems, the nation’s most important source of surface transportation funding lapsed this month for the first time in its history due to a bizarre argument in which, somehow, both sides were simultaneously right and dead wrong.
On one side of the argument, a single senator — Jim Bunning, R-Ky. — took a stand for paying for core government responsibilities and against descending further into debt. People on the other side felt it was irresponsible to allow funding for programs such as unemployment benefits, COBRA and transportation to be shut off to score political points.
Both sides are right.
Where they are both wrong is that neither side has stepped forward to offer solutions. While solving the funding crisis that plagues some of our largest government programs is daunting, the answer is actually quite simple when the question is how best to fund transportation.
We simply need to return to more responsible times when we charged users of the transportation system a fee that reflected the cost to maintain that system. The user fee we currently have in place — the federal gas tax — is 18.4 cents a gallon, the same amount it was in 1993 when gas was $1.11 per gallon.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan increased the gas tax by 5 cents stating, “We simply cannot allow this magnificent system to deteriorate beyond repair. The time has come to preserve what past Americans spent so much time and effort to create.”
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a 5 cent increase in the gas tax. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed a 4.3 cent increase in the gas tax.
Today, we opt to transfer money from our deficit-laden general budget to avoid raising the user fee to pay for transportation. And yet a federal gas tax increase of a dime a gallon would cost the average family only $9 a month.
Some of the problems that face our nation in this day and age are truly confounding. Solving our transportation mess simply isn’t one of them.
Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin