Sunday, August 2, 2015

Highway Robbery

The Constitution gives Congress the power to establish Post Offices and Post Roads.  In 1787 this was considered an essential duty of the federal government and for some 100 years the post office system and its connecting roadways were vital for the nation.  Much of this was the basis for what would become our roadways.  Then during WW II, General Eisenhower, saw the military advantage of Germany’s Autobahn, and when Eisenhower became president he and Congress initiated the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways in 1956 and established the Highway Trust Fund.  The Trust Fund is an excise tax on gas of 18.4 cents per gallon.  Whether post road or military highway, both are authorized under the Constitution.  But as most things political in the past 80 years, the Highway Trust Fund has fallen prey to political corruption and grown well beyond its intent or constitutional boundary.

Now under the Department of Transportation (DOT) the Fund is used for all manner of political spending.  As we write in Vigilance The Price of Liberty, the DOT budget includes $32 billion over six years for Transportation Leadership Awards that, according to the 2012 budget, is a “competitive grant program designed to create incentives for State and local partners to adopt critical reforms in a variety of areas, including safety, livability, and demand management. . . for example, passing measures to prevent distracted driving (safety) or modify­ing transportation plans to include mass transit, bike, and pedestrian options (livability)”.  This program has no relation to constitutional authorities of post roads or defense and is part of the reason politicians spend more money than is taken in tax revenue.

According to a 2014 study by the Eno Center for Transportation, since 1991 Congress and presidents have violated the principle that the fund should be zero sum; i.e. not to spend less or more than the revenues taken in.  Unrelated money has run in and out of the Fund.  In the 1990s money was removed for deficit reduction and, according to the Wall Street Journal article, “Mad Tax Fury Road” since 2005, some $65 billion have been transferred from the General Fund to make-up the Highway Trust Fund’s short-fall. 

Based on CBO figures, the Highway and Transit accounts take in some $40 billion per year or $240 billion over six years.  However, this amount is insufficient for politicians – of both parties.  All this money, and we have yet to address the issues of politicians and bureaucrats deciding how to spend the money, which is often replete with waste and fraud that is endemic to government projects.

As Congress fights over funding the Trust Fund – with gimmicks like using a revenue projection of 10 years to fund 3 years of spending – the Fund depicts everything bad about government, politics and politicians.  It has had successive Congresses and presidents disregard the Constitution, to collect money from taxpayers to be spent on projects that are unconstitutional then, to add insult to injury, to irresponsibly spend more than is taken and leave the nation in greater debt.  This is highway robbery.

No comments:

Post a Comment