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Rob Perks’s Blog

Christmas wish: stockings stuffed with transportation dollars

Rob Perks

Posted December 24, 2012 in Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil

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Another "woe is me" article today in the Washington Post about how Virginia is strapped for cash to cover its transportation costs. State lawmakers gnash their teeth and howl about the dire need to increase revenue yet none have the stomach for the obvious solution: raise the gas tax.

The familiar sob story, as reported by WashPost:

Virginia is so desperate for road money that for years it has been dipping into its new-construction fund just to perform basic maintenance on existing roads — and even that money may soon run out. Fairfax, like many places, has been compensating with local money, but county officials say it isn’t enough.

Over the next 10 years, Fairfax estimates its transportation needs at $8 billion. It has identified only $5 billion in funding, leaving a $3 billion gap — or $300 million per year.

The only solution...is new state revenue, such as sales or gas tax increases. The state’s gas tax hasn’t been raised in 26 years.

New taxes for transportation? Bah humbug! That's the reply from state legislators. As the article explains, the big problem is “an extreme element in the General Assembly that blocks anything that even smells like a tax increase.” The Democrats blame the GOP -- a criticism that the Republican lawmakers readily accept. According to Del. David Albo (R-Springfield), "the only way a tax increase might pass is if it can be argued that it doesn’t amount to higher taxes for Virginia voters."

But aren't our elected leaders supposed to actually lead when it comes to solving the government's problems? Laying the blame on voters unwilling to support tough decisions is a huge cop out. And it may not even be true.

The Association of Equipment Managers (AEM) has a new survey looking at voters’ opinions on transportation infrastructure. Seventy-seven percent said infrastructure “is in serious need of rebuilding and modernizing,” and 61 percent think improvements should come from “a combination of funding sources such as some additional tax revenues, user fees and private investment.” (The survey of 1,000 voters was conducted Dec. 5-7 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.) Here are some key findings:

  • 77% of Americans believe the infrastructure in their state and throughout America "is in serious need of rebuilding and modernizing."
  • 61% say the best way to pay for infrastructure improvements is "to use a combination of funding sources such as some additional tax revenues. user fees and private investment."
  • 54% say that, regardless of what they think about proposals to raise taxes on incomes above $250,000, they would support dedicating most of the additional revenue generated to modernizing infrastructure.
  • 68% of voters nationwide say that the United States needs to make investments to build up our infrastructure to compete with foreign countries that are doing so.
  • 84% of voters believe that "if the United States can afford to spend billions of dollars rebuilding the infrastructure in foreign countries such as Iraq and Afganistan, we can afford to do the same here at home."

NRDC's recent transportation poll found similar support for fixing and upgrading our nation's transportation infrastructure. The big question -- how to pay for it? -- has already been answered. We just need our elected leaders to exhibit the jingle balls to do what needs to be done to make our Christmas wishes come true.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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