Well here’s a sobering thought: Transit advocates, cyclists and the road lobby have the same talking points these days. All anyone is talking about is how to rescue the Highway Trust Fund from its own fiscal cliff.
I attended yesterday’s “Asphalt Fly-In,” the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s first-ever Washington legislative conference. If I went in expecting to hear outrageous things about starving out transit and bike/ped or eliminating the last remaining environmental safeguards, I came out disappointed. The only eyebrow-raising moment was the off-color joke some asphalt lobbyist opened with. It was, at least, extremely off-color.
While asphalt lobbyists want more cash to widen highways and build roads to nowhere, and reformers just want to make sure that limited funding doesn’t squeeze out things like transit and bike/ped projects entirely, it all comes down to the same demand.
House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster told the asphalt industry representatives that while it’s hard for lawmakers to agree on anything when it comes to taxes, “when they talk about revenues, the one area of revenues that seems to brings them together, or at least makes them talk, are revenues when it comes to the transportation system.”
But that doesn’t mean finding a solution will be easy.
Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he understands that the current limitations on the Highway Trust Fund are just “an accident of history” and need to be revisited — presumably by raising the gas tax.
“Somehow it’s a core conservative principle that whatever is there now as the current federal gas tax, that’s it and that’s written in stone that Moses brought down from the mountain,” Vitter said. He added that he’s “open to updating that financing system” but here’s the catch — it can’t be a “net tax increase for middle-class taxpayers.”
That means any gas tax increase needs to be “offset” by other tax reductions. So essentially what Vitter is arguing for is just another bailout — moving money around within the federal budget, beefing up one pot while shrinking another. Where would it come from? “That’s the $64,000 question,” he said. The only new revenue he would support without an offset would be from oil drilling — an option Shuster also highlighted in his remarks.