Matt Yglesias writes: Will The Federal Gasoline Tax Be Grover Norquist’s Next Hostage?
With the debt ceiling controversy all but resolved, and hostage-taking once again proven to be an effective strategy for achieving conservative policy goals, Washington is wondering what the next fight will be. Byron Tau and Ben Smith in Politico plausibly speculate that the scheduled September 30 sunset of the federal gasoline tax may be the culprit. The gas tax, in addition to serving important environmental goals, is the means by which the federal government finances investments in transportation infrastructure. Traditionally, reauthorizing the tax for that purpose has been uncontroversial (though the idea of raising it to finance needed infrastructure upgrades hasn’t been) but in this day and age everything could be on the table and Tau & Smith report that Grover Norquist seems to be at least considering the idea
It is important to remember that most travel is local, so there is a not beyond-the-pale argument for returning the responsibility to the states. Especially since the completion of the interstate system, the federal role has been drifting. There needs to be a strong rationale for federal involvement. This includes:
- interstate commerce,
- the use of untolling to avoid the beggar-thy-neighbor consequences of each state having toll roads,
- a contract between states to ensures some minimum level of expenditure (and implicitly quality of service) across all states, this includes rebuilding the interstate highway system, which needs a major recapitalization.
- a way of avoiding 50 fights about raising the state gas tax if the federal gas tax disappears.
However the gas tax should better be viewed (and legally restructured) as a user fee, so we can avoid this needless politicization.