Oberstar speaks

Representative James Oberstar from Minnesota, now Chair of the House Transportation Committee spoke to a State Legislative committee yesterday: No gas tax hike, less federal aid, Oberstar warns
Minnesota has not raised the gas tax in almost 20 years, while the cost of roads has of course gone up. While the legislature has passed (and may again pass) a hike in the gas tax, the Governor and putative Vice Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has vetoed, and promises to again.
In reality, motorists would probably not notice a 5 or 10 cent rise in the gas tax, that is within the natural volatility of gas prices on daily basis anyway. Second, the funds go to transportation, which is generally a popular use of the money. Third, the US financing context is rigged so states need to produce matching funds to obtain federal resources. It would seem locally advantageous for those in charge to pass (and sign) such a tax.
There is of course the question of how the money would be spent, and whether the spending priorities that would be enacted align with needs. This is particularly the case because we undercharge for the use of roads (like most of the world, there is no pricing of congestion impacts in Minnesota), and so overconsume, and thus have more congestion than we otherwise should. But gas taxes have the merit of having a low collection cost compared to tolling, so less is wasted.
Alas, the world is imperfect, and the question of which way is the best to proceed depends upon assumptions, and trading off the ideal with the achievable, which is the job of politicians.

One thought on “Oberstar speaks”

  1. I doubt this was his line of reasoning, but:
    One could argue that the way to fight congestion and/or lower the environmental impact of driving is not to add more roads.
    Instead, by limiting the transportation money available it forces politicians, planners, and developers to spend more efficiently… and for consumers to seek alternate transportation forms and more sustainable lifestyles.

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