Perry: Washington Still Doesn’t Get It
A new report from Washington contains some incredibly short-sighted recommendations for solving our country’s infrastructure challenges. At a time of record high gasoline prices, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission’s ideas include tripling the federal gas tax from its current 18.4 cents to nearly 60 cents per gallon (through a series of five tax increases over five years). They also recommend curtailing states’ ability to leverage the capital and innovation of the private sector. Congress must reject these recommendations.
Their recommendations prove the notion that the further someone gets from the actual location of a challenge, the less they know about it or how to solve it. Raising taxes is a surefire way to stifle growth, and limiting states’ freedom to innovate will only make it worse. The federal commission further shows a weak grasp of economic theory by encouraging states to not only accept their proposed massive federal tax increases, but to follow suit and simultaneously raise our own gas taxes at an even higher rate!
Texas already sends a hefty share of gas tax dollars to Washington and we get less in return than we should. Among U.S. states, Texas is the second largest donor to the federal Highway Trust Fund and ranks 50th in rate-of-return for our federal gas tax dollar. For every dollar we send to Washington, only 8 cents in federal transit program funds and 70 cents in federal highway program funds make it back to Texas.
It’s tough to get comfortable with sending even more of Texans’ hard-earned dollars to Washington, D.C., knowing they’ll only be earmarked, redistributed to other states and locked into programs that won’t do much to relieve crowding on our roads. This is big government at its worst.
That crowding on our roads will only get worse if our population keeps growing at its current pace (about one thousand people per day). With our state’s population expected to double in the next 40 years and 45 percent of our state’s population already living along the I-35 corridor, we must have the freedom to innovate in solving these tremendous challenges.
About two weeks ago, I was shocked and saddened by a phone call telling me that my dear friend, Ric Williamson, had passed away. Those who knew the chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission were struck by his tenacious advocacy for ideas that have Texas, for the first time in decades, addressing transportation needs in a way that does not burden our citizens with higher taxes.
In the days since his passing, there have been calls from some quarters to abandon the forward-thinking initiatives we championed to meet our state’s current and future transportation needs. That would be a big mistake. The federal commission’s short-sighted recommendation to curtail our ability to partner with the private sector shows that Washington is still mired in old-school bureaucratic thinking. Washington may not want to change, but fast-growing states like ours simply don’t have the luxury of waiting on the federal government to save the day. Texans must act to solve Texas problems.
Thankfully states have a champion in U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters who believes that Washington cannot keep doing things the same way and expect different results. She has been a strong advocate of innovation and outside-the-box thinking and has publicly disagreed with many of this commission’s recommendations.
Public-private partnerships work because they offer the opportunity for a steady rate of return for their investors and the state while providing capital for the construction of much-needed roads and other infrastructure that otherwise wouldn’t be funded. This infrastructure doesn’t just get Texas moving, it bolsters our local economies, benefiting entire regions. Investing private capital in public roads (with business terms such as toll rates approved by local and state officials) and netting dollars that can be used to build more roads in that region is far better than sending more money in the form of higher taxes to Washington, D.C. through a current funding system that is clearly broken.
Critics who have fueled public hysteria over foreign firms’ involvement in these partnerships have tried to sway public opinion with misinformation. It is ironic that we don’t see the same reaction to similar investments in our state by foreign companies like Samsung in Austin, Toyota in San Antonio, or Ericsson in Plano. We welcome these companies to Texas because they invest in our state, employ thousands of Texans and improve the quality of life for countless Texas families. The thousands of jobs that will be created by private sector investment in our transportation infrastructure will do the same thing.
Washington is clearly incapable of meeting today’s transportation demands, so why should anyone believe they can handle tomorrow’s? If the federal government doesn’t make serious changes in the size, scope and dependability of its support for the national transportation system, Texas and other states must have the freedom to seek our own solutions to transportation problems.
Tripling the federal gas tax while stifling states’ abilities to fund improvements with private sector partnerships could be a crippling blow to our country’s economic future and disastrous for a fast growing state like Texas. Rather than take more of our money and deliver less of what we need, I suggest the federal government step aside, let states retain their dollars, and give them the freedom to solve problems at the state and local level.
In the unfortunate event the commission’s wrong-headed recommendations are adopted, Texans will have plenty of time to fantasize about their hard-earned money making its way back home, since they will be sitting still in traffic congestion for a long time to come.