Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A backdoor path to tolling?

The price of fuel is driving the national debate over many issues right now. It’s even made its way into the presidential campaign.

Not that it’s a big surprise, with fuel topping $4 a gallon.

A recent round includes a proposal by Sen. John McCain – the presumptive Republican presidential nominee – to drop the fuel tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

One of our listeners wondered if the idea wasn’t just a backdoor scheme to promote more tolling and privatization.

After all, if the Highway Trust Fund – which is where the fuel tax is supposed to go – runs out because nothing’s coming in, it would justify all the folks who say we should do away with it and replace it with tolling.

I’ve wondered myself if some folks in DC look at the senator’s plan as a path to getting their way on tolling. Even if that’s not the intention, it probably would have that exact effect.

We already have so much money diverted from the Highway Trust Fund that it’s going to go empty not far in the future.

And please note the reason it’s drying up. It’s not because the fuel tax can’t fund our highways. It’s because they keep taking fuel tax money meant for roads and spending it on God knows what.

No one likes taxes. But if the tax is actually spent on what we paid it for, I think that would be fine.

One other problem with this idea: Fuel taxes aren’t what caused the price of fuel to be so high. OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer pointed out recently that the fuel tax per gallon now is the same amount it was when fuel was less than a dollar a gallon.

How do we know the price of fuel will really come down? How do we know the oil companies won’t just charge the same price and keep the extra money? Would this idea just be a new way for oil companies to make more profit? I think they have more than enough profit now.

A fuel tax holiday, good as it sounds, won’t help. We need a real solution.

Oh, and one more side note. Some folks have the impression that this trend toward tolling is the work of one political party – the Republicans.

Unfortunately, this is a bipartisan effort to screw us. Remember that one of the biggest advocates of tolling free interstates and then selling our roads is a Democrat – Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania.

In the matter of tolling and highway privatization, we have opponents – and friends – in both political parties.