Democrats think gas taxes are too low, and four-dollar-a-gallon gas is too cheap. Associated Press raised eyebrows with a story headlined: "No gas tax holiday: Congress considers raising pump tax to help repair crumbling highways." Reporter Jim Abrams found that "Now, lawmakers quietly are talking about raising fuel taxes by a dime from the current 18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline and 24.3 cents on diesel fuel." But the lawmakers he cited were Reps. James Oberstar and Peter DeFazio, both liberal Democrats.
John McCain is quoted briefly announcing that economists didn’t like his gas-tax-holiday proposal, and Sen. Jim DeMint is allowed to argue that Congress is wasting billions of highway dollars on earmarks. But almost the entire AP story is dedicated to the views of those Democrats and "nonpartisan" groups lobbying for a gas-tax hike.
Notice how reporter Abrams suggests that the objective truth is that highway spending is too low, but he makes no attempt to give the reader any idea what the budgetary trend is, whether spending has been increasing year after year. He merely suggests that current spending is below what Congress wants to spend:
Just three years ago, that trust fund enjoyed a surplus of $10 billion. Even without a tax freeze, the fund is projected to finish 2009 with a deficit of $3 billion. That that could grow as Americans drive less and buy less gas because of higher pump prices.
The consequence is that only about $27 billion in federal money will be available next year to states and local governments for new infrastructure investment even though the current highway act calls for spending $41 billion a year. For many, the solution is to raise rather than suspend or cut federal fuel taxes, which haven't changed since 1993.
Abrams let Sen. DeMint lament earmarks, but he then betrayed no attempt of challenging the Democrats with that argument. He merely moved on to letting them announce their big tax-and-spend liberal goals:
Oberstar, D-Minn., said his committee is working on the next long-term highway bill. He estimated it will take between $450 billion and $500 billion over six years to address safety and congestion issues with highways, bridges and transit systems.
"We'll put all things on the table," Oberstar said, but the gas tax "is the cornerstone. Nothing else will work without the underpinning of the higher user fee gas tax."
At the very least, the gas tax should be indexed to construction cost inflation, DeFazio said.
Then came the "nonpartisan" advocates for tax hikes:
The nonpartisan National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission concluded in a report this year that the U.S. needs to spend $225 billion annually over the next 50 years to create a highway and transit system capable of sustaining strong economic growth. Current spending, at federal, state and local levels, is about $90 billion a year.
Among other revenue-raising possibilities, the commission recommended gradually increasing the current federal fuel taxes to 40 cents a gallon.
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association is calling for a 10-cent-a-gallon raise and indexing the tax to inflation. With construction costs soaring because of competition for building materials from China and other developing nations, the tax rate would have to be about 29 cents a gallon to achieve the same purchasing power as the 18.4-cent rate imposed in 1993, the association says.
No "objective" story on gas-tax hikes would be complete without reminding Americans that their gas taxes are far below those progressive Europeans:
Including state and local levies, people in the U.S. pay about 47 cents on average in taxes for a gallon of gasoline. Fuel in many European countries costs $8 to $9 a gallon, with half or more of that going to taxes.
Other ideas that will be on the table when lawmakers write a bill next year including more toll roads and public-private partnerships, congestion pricing and user fees where drivers pay a tax based on how many miles they drive.
Will other reporters follow up on how the Democrats are aiming not to give drivers some financial relief, but to drag more money out of their household budget?