Highways aren’t cheap dates.
Our nation’s highways aren’t much into “going Dutch.”
The broad perception is that highways pay for themselves, but in reality they want us—drivers and non-drivers alike—to pick up the tab, 20 percent of it anyway.
According to a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), “Highways do not—and, except for brief periods in our nation’s history, never have—paid for themselves through the taxes that highway advocates label ‘user fees.’”
These “user fees” have been defined as things like tolls and gas taxes, but U.S. PIRG says that there is a growing disparity between the amount raised by these fees and the amount spent on highways—and the difference is being covered through general and property tax revenue.
As Sarah Mirk writes in her post, “Debunking the Myth that Highways Pay for Themselves” in the Portland Mercury:
“People who don’t drive very often are still shouldering the cost of highways.”
According to U.S. PIRG, “Since 1947, the amount of money spent on highways, roads, and streets has exceeded the amount raised through gasoline taxes and other so-called ‘user fees’ by $600 billion (2005 dollars), representing a massive transfer of general government funds to highways.”
Despite these figures, lobbyists still find a sympathetic ear to the “they pay for themselves” argument. Meanwhile, public transportation programs receive only about 50 percent of their funding from federal sources.
“The myths associated with road financing put all other forms of transportation at a disadvantage,” said Dan Smith of U.S. PIRG.
Now, at the risk of abusing a hot-button issue for my own agenda, I’ll ask this question:
Do we cherish our driving ability more than our good health?
While we can’t agree to pool our resources to give everyone in our country access to quality healthcare, we decided long ago that it was wise to take money from the central pot to give everyone access to long stretches of asphalt.
Of course, universal healthcare and national highway systems aren’t perfectly parallel issues. Still, the question is worth a moment of thought.
So, tell us, what do you think?
P.P.S. Thanks to Pawl for alerting me to all this info.