REGISTER VIEWPOINT: How to pay for pavement?

The proposal to cut the federal gasoline tax for the summer popped like the political soap bubble it was. In fact, we
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

The proposal to cut the federal gasoline tax for the summer popped like the political soap bubble it was.

In fact, we're told, we might as well get ready for an increase in the federal fuel tax.

Why? That's what pays to keep the roads in shape to drive on.

Why, more specifically? The construction industry lobby has convinced lawmakers, particularly the influential chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Democrat James Oberstar of Minnesota, that cutting the gas tax not only means crumbling roads, but the loss of thousands of construction jobs in each state.

In addition, the three-month gas tax holiday would have cost the highway trust fund, which pays for all that asphalt, $9 billion. Even without the holiday, the trust fund faced a deficit of $3 billion by the end of 2009, simply because people are driving less and buying less gasoline -- or so officials told the Associated Press.

In Ohio, we're told, the holiday would have meant the loss of $256 million in highway funds, and 8,901 construction jobs.

So Congress is actually talking about raising the gas tax a dime; that would make the tax 28.4 cents a gallon on gasoline and 34.3 cents a gallon on diesel fuel. The more cynical among us may want to note that will nicely account for the drop in gas prices the last couple of weeks.

And even if you buy into the environmentalists' argument that higher gas prices are good because they encourage less fuel consumption, we still need those roads. Increasingly, the fuel tax burden will be borne by the owners and drivers of the big rigs that haul the goods we demand -- and, simply because of their size, account for most of the wear and tear on the roads.

So the result looks like this: Fewer goods or higher prices for those goods. Which do you like?

The solution? Whatever it is, someone won't like it. It may well be we have to look uneasily north to Michigan (projected losses from a gas tax holiday: $208 million and 7,247 jobs) where state officials are facing the uneasy news they may have to double the state's highway spending to $6.1 billion a year to fix Michigan's abused roads and bridges.

State gas tax? Forget it, Michigan says. We're losing population. Fewer drivers, fewer people buying gas and paying gas tax? Where else to get the money? That's what a task force commissioned by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is supposed to figure out.

It'll be interesting to see what that cash-strapped state will come up. Given that Michigan is already one of those states that charges for license and registration based on the retail value of the car (or by vehicle weight for model years before 1984), it won't be pretty.

But it'll probably be as close to an idea as anyone else has come up with.