Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kleptocracy In Action: Texas Toll Roads

The other day, when I attended Hank Gilbert’s meeting on the Trans Texas Corridor, he presented an interesting scenario. I don’t recall the specifics of his scenario so I will reconstruct one with similar numbers

Say you have a typical married couple, a dual income family, and each earner has to drive 20 miles per day to work and 20 miles back. Say they both drive on toll roads that charge the Texas minimum, 15 cents per mile, for a toll fee.

Daily travel to and from work for each would net the toll road authority 6 dollars for each car, That’s 12 dollars a day every day they work. Say they work 50 weeks a year, 5 days per week. 12 dollars spent every day on the toll roads, times 250 days per year means the couple pays in toll fees 3 thousand dollars per year.

And all of this because TxDot says it doesn’t get enough money from the state gasoline taxes to maintain the state’s highway system, let alone finance new construction. That, Gilbert said, is because the state gas tax has not risen since 1992.

And there’s the rub. Republican-dominated legislatures every year have treated the word “taxes” like the worst word in creation.

Republicans are all for spending revenue, particularly when it is yours, but freak out when they are asked to consider raising revenue for the public good. In particular, gas taxes. But here’s the truth: you don’t have to raise gasoline taxes, all you have to do is index the gas tax to the consumer price index. Index the gas tax to inflation. That alone will cause an 8 cent per gallon rise in gasoline taxes. That alone will finance new construction of needed highways in Texas.

I think I can afford that.

It's true. According to a report from Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) called “Shaping the Competitive Advantage of Texas Metropolitan Regions: The role of Transportation, Housing & Aesthetics”, this adjustment in the gas tax is 8 cents per gallon, and that's all they need.

Well that’s odd, because in his letter to two congressmen who sit on the US Congress’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Gov. Perry wrote that Texas would have to raise its gasoline taxes by $1.40 per gallon “to pay for all transportation improvements our highway system needs over the next 25 years.”

That’s odd.

His own committee says it would cost 8 cents per gallon, he says a dollar forty.

Obviously, taxpayers wouldn’t accept that, as he states later on in the same letter “…I will tell you that earlier this month [the Texas House] voted 122-19 to defeat an attempt to simply index our gas tax to inflation”.

So it’s odd that he knows about the indexing, but makes the wild claim that the state would need to raise gas taxes by $1.40.

My, my. The governor lied to Congress.

What a shock.

So let’s revisit the scenario. It would cost our typical Texas dual income family 3 thousand dollars a year in toll fees to drive to and from work. If gas taxes were indexed to inflation, and they paid an additional 8 cents per gallon to the state, how much is that per year?

Well, let’s say they drive a Honda Accord, and an Acura. Sensible low mileage cars, but not more sensible hybrids. They each get about 20 miles per gallon when the cars are tuned. That’s an additional 16 cents per car per day. 32 cents per family per day. For a year, that means 80 additional dollars paid to the state for highway improvement and new construction projects.

80 dollars in taxes versus 3000 dollars in toll fees.

Sounds to me like someone stands to gain a lot of lucre in this. Sounds to me like we have a state government whose hands are in everyones’ pockets but their own. Sounds to me like we are being governed by unrestrained kleptomanics. Kleptomanics who beat the drum of “No New Taxes!!” all the while reaching around behind and pulling cash out of our wallets.

All of this just has to end.

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