Don Young Suggests Possible Increase in Federal Gas Tax

August 9, 2007

It isn’t everyday that you hear a Republican member of Congress from Alaska calling for an increase in taxes on gasoline. But then again, Rep. Don Young has little to lose with fiscal conservatives, given his infamous support for the Bridge to Nowhere, which was eventually scrapped following public outcry.

From the Associated Press:

The Minneapolis bridge disaster that suddenly is the symbol of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure could tip the scales in favor of billions of dollars in higher gasoline taxes for repairs coast to coast.

There are 500 bridges around the country similar to the Minneapolis span, and “these are potential deathtraps,” says Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, former chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

“We have to, as a Congress, grasp this problem. And yes, I would even suggest, fund this problem with a tax,” he says. “May the sky not fall on me.”

One-quarter of the nation’s bridges, including the one in Minneapolis, have been classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. One-third of major roads are judged by federal transportation officials to be in poor or mediocre condition.

The gas tax has long been viewed as one the best way to pay for public transportation infrastructure, as many feel that it best adheres to the benefit principle of public finance. (Some argue that tolls serve the benefit principle better, which is true, but transactions costs have long hindered their implementation, although that is changing.) However, here’s a question that seriously needs to be addressed: Why is the federal government responsible for any transportation spending projects within states, and doesn’t such federal control merely leave open the problem of congressional politics calling the shots for regional transportation while ignoring the incentives such federal policies give for state fiscal irresponsibility?

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