More gas tax thoughts

Up in the 40th Senatorial district (new seat) we have Democrat Mark Aurand facing Representative Mario Scavello (R). Scavello voted for the gas tax increase as a representative. This has led to the campaigns sparring over the issue and as BOH points out a Republican defending a tax increase and a Democrat attacking it.

Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow.

Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow.

The issue however is more complex and in my opinion both gentleman are missing the mark. At least in terms of a long term solution.

As with most issues the transportation funding problem we face is not a revenue issue. It’s a reform issue. Like education, the solution isn’t raising more and more revenue. The end game is fixing a broke system. 

To accomplish this first we have to acknowledge the relationship between transportation funding issues and land use decisions. 

Most modeling exercises now take land uses decisions as an input and transportation “improvements” as output or a reaction. This is happening right now in LMT as we try to play a very expensive game of “catch up” resulting from decisions to let sprawling development get way ahead of our transportation infrastructure system. That system today is already failing to support it. This will get much worse in the next 10 years as we assume massive unfunded long term obligations and liabilities.

Today, we have localities making irrational land use decisions resulting in induced traffic. Next we have the bloated and super sized infrastructure. This of course will likely be paid for with “someone else’s money”. In addition to LMT also think Fedex and Rt. 22 widening. 

The whole system is so convoluted it’s really impossible to actually quantify real public costs when your constantly “playing the game from behind”. Pinpointing the actual long term costs of development projects is step 2. 

Back to funding, for now the best solution might be gas tax. At least that is a user fee. Since we have no idea the real big picture costs of infrastructure improvements I prefer those using the roads are the ones who pay for them. Use the roads more, pay more. Use them less pay less. But again, this is a bandaid.

In the end it’s not the long term answer. We have to reform a broke system or shortly after this tax increase we’ll need another. Just like school taxes the answer isn’t more revenue constantly. The solution is to stop what we’re doing that isn’t working. Evaluate. Reform.

So while I think both candidates are missing the mark in terms of addressing underlying problems right now the gas tax is paying the bills. Failure to reform today will result in a bigger hole tomorrow. Aurand, while attacking the gas tax proposes nothing in it’s place. . . As a campaign strategy this may work with low information voters but most will see right through it.