Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Just how badly will we end up screwing ourselves?

As you may have heard, we are now apparently gearing up for a fight over whether to continue with the federal gasoline tax. Yep, it expires in one month, which means that Congress has to pass a bill affirmatively extending it. The tax, now 18.4 cents a gallon, has not increased since 1993, despite inflation and declining gasoline purchases per mile driven. (Yes, we have gotten more fuel efficient since then.)

Grover Norquist and his pals claim that if the federal gas tax is eliminated, the states will step up with their own taxes because they know they have to maintain their transportation infrastructure. Sure. We all know what Grover and his pals will do if the states try it. Anyway, the highways don't recognize state borders, and bridges quite often constitute state boundaries. General Motors and the Chamber of Commerce, no less, both want the tax raised to $1 a gallon. Surprised? Obviously, people won't be inclined to buy cars if they can't drive them, which is what will happen if the roads and bridges all collapse. (BTW, I know that roads and bridges don't constitute the whole of transportation infrastructure, and that we should in fact invest far more in mass transit. But that's a separate issue.)

The truth is, we need to raise $2 trillion to fix our roads, and fast. As the Urban Land Institute points out, "As Congress debates how much should be spent and where to find the money, China has a plan to spend $1 trillion on high-speed rail, highways and other infrastructure in five years. India is nearing the end of a $500 billion investment phase that has seen major highway improvements, and plans to double that amount by 2017. Brazil plans to spend $900 billion on energy and transportation projects by 2014."

We need a higher gas tax for other good reasons, of course. It will encourage conservation and reduce emissions of pollutants including C02, which is even more urgent. But you can't drive electric cars without roads any more than you drive an Escalade. And yes, we need to rebuild water and sewer systems, we need a more efficient, "smart" electrical grid, we need to fix schools and teach children more effectively, we need to replace our weather satellites, we need to do a whole lot, and we need to get going right away. By the way, if you happen to be out of work, I'm talking about jobs, lots of jobs.

But right now, ideological extremists hold all the cards. The Republican Party stands for national decline, and they have the power, right now, to get their wish.


kathy a. said...

i don't understand why these buffoons keep arguing against funding things that matter for the general good. the interstate highway system, for example, cost a bundle of money and could only be accomplished with a coordinated national effort. we all depend on these highways, whether traveling ourselves or relying on goods thus transported. the system needs maintenance and repairs.

(my book club just read the big roads, about the interstates.)

public mass transit is hugely important, in and between cities. i've got it pretty good in the SF bay area, and there are great trains/transit systems on the east coast, but japan puts us all to shame. big up-front investment, but it works.

i've read recently that some nutjobs are proposing deep cuts in federal operations like the national weather service, arguing that "there is an entire weather channel," and that individuals and corporate interests would be willing to pay for weather information. well, yes -- american people and corporations are willing to pay for that, and they do so via taxes. it would not be to anyone's benefit to set up a patchwork of private subscription weather organizations. also, the weather channel depends on the national weather service for data -- you know, the facts underlying weather reports? i don't know how deep the stupid can get.

Anonymous said...

How exactly does the Republican party have any power? Last time I looked, the Democrats controlled the Senate and Presidency. Prior to the 2010 elections, they had filibuster proof majorities in Congress along with the White House. Any thing they wanted to get done could have been done by now. There's a reason the elections of 2010 turned out the way they did. And there will be a re-occurrence in 2012. The landslide against the Democrats will be historic. Obama's failed policies have tainted an entire generation to associate failure and misery with Democrat goals. Keep up the nutjob rhetoric, I'll be laughing (perhaps hysterically while dressed as a clown) from 2012 forward.