McQuiston: The Gas Tax

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(Host)  Vermont Business Magazine editor and commentator Tim McQuiston
suggests that the best source of funding for the repair and maintenance
of our roads and bridges may in fact be found at the neighborhood gas

(McQuiston) Congress is wrestling with how to fix the
nation’s transportation infrastructure. Needless to say, it’s been
political struggle.

One of the big issues is where new revenue
would come from. The most obvious is the gasoline tax. But no one ever
got elected, that I can think of, by promising to raise taxes, any tax.
This is an election year. Don’t hold your breath.

Here in
Vermont, there’s a similar effort among some in the Legislature to raise
our gasoline tax. With government being controlled by Democrats,
Montpelier would not seem to have the same political obstacles we see in

And the need in Vermont is even clearer than it is
nationally. Tropical Storm Irene tore away big chunks of infrastructure
and damaged a lot more. While major repairs have been done and nearly
every road and bridge has been repaired, at least temporarily, there is
still much work ahead. Permanent repairs need to be done, stream beds
re-set, culverts upgraded and there needs to be some environmental
remediation, not only because of what Irene did, but to avoid what the
next storm might do. Some of our history was damaged or simply washed
away. Decisions also will have to be made about that.

But there
is also the pre-existing infrastructure that needed upgrades and repairs
before Irene even hit town. There is ongoing maintenance needs. Irene
sucked up a lot of our regular transportation budget, as did the
impressive new Champlain Bridge.

So the suggestion is that
Vermont raise the gasoline tax, but only the gasoline tax, to raise
money to repair and enhance our infrastructure.

Admittedly, the
gas tax has suffered recently because people are driving less and
driving more fuel efficient vehicles. Fewer tourists haven’t helped
either. Gas tax revenues were down nearly 5 percent in January.

finding the appropriate increase might be difficult. But the gasoline
tax would go directly into the transportation fund to boost the generous
federal match and especially help local towns recover from Irene.

gas tax is also a bit "exported" by visitors and is somewhat invisible
because it’s lumped into the price. I’m guessing it could be a bit of a
tough sell with gas prices creeping back up and the regressive nature of
it. But all in all it seems like the logical tax to raise for this
purpose and one we could handle if it comes with a strict sunset. One
cent of tax raises about 3.3 million dollars.

My general thought
is that the exact right time to fix a problem is right after a
calamity. History shows clearly that when government fixes something
fast, the fix is more effective and it costs less in the long run.

at the Vermont budget deficit from the early 1990s. Governor Snelling
and Speaker Wright raised taxes, cut spending, got rid of the deficit
and Vermont has been in a better fiscal position than nearly every other
state in the nation for more than a generation.

Now is the time to do the same thing for roads and bridges.

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