Think user fees pay for roads? You don't know the half of it

The report published today by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PIRG) on how much highway construction and maintenance your federal gas tax actually pays for is a dense read. It's a dense read because the highway construction lobby stole the simple message and left you with stacks of history, complex public policy and tax legislation to explain why it's misguided.

I'll nutshell it for you (and coin a new verb!):

• The federal gas tax you paid at the pump pays for less than half the roads you drive on.

• You're not paying a user fee when you pay a gas tax. You're paying a tax, and as such should be put to the best and highest use on behalf of America's interests. You didn't buy your right to use the road.

• You pay lots of other taxes and fees that pay for roads, even though those taxes have nothing to do with driving. Your other taxes, even if you never drive, are subsidizing driving. (You're welcome.)

• Do you really think building more roads will take care of driving's biggest bane, congestion? Did you buy bigger pants to "solve" your 10 extra pounds of cheer from the holidays?

• If gas taxes fully covered the cost of building and maintaining roads to benefit drivers (which they don't), they'd still be shirking most of the bill for the negative impacts roads have on safety, noise levels, runoff, flooding, airborne carbon...   

• Relying on the current gas tax scheme, which isn't indexed to inflation, to fund transportation is strangling all transportation programs, thanks to rising prices of road construction and maintenance, higher mileage cars and a drop in driving miles.

To nutshell my nutshelling: the next federal transportation bill would be a great place to start over how we fund transportation in Illinois and the nation.

How would you fund transportation in America?

Hogwash

>>>• The federal gas tax you paid at the pump pays for less than half the roads you drive on.<<<<<<
Yes, but what about the State, County, and City Motor Fuel taxes as well as sales taxes, license taxes, & parking taxes. You forgot about those.

>>• You're not paying a user fee when you pay a gas tax. You're paying a tax, and as such should be put to the best and highest use on behalf of America's interests. You didn't buy your right to use the road.<<
This argument is disingenuous. If the roads are not maintained, the motorsist will no longer use them and generate revenue for all those other higher and best uses. it's like saying "Sell the Cows Milk, but don't buy the cow food first. Use the money for something else." The cow dies and your left with zilch.

>>• You pay lots of other taxes and fees that pay for roads, even though those taxes have nothing to do with driving. Your other taxes, even if you never drive, are subsidizing driving. (You're welcome.)<<
Again disingenuous. If all tax revenue generated by driving was used for roads, (Sales tax on vehicle purchases, motor fuel and sale taxes from all sources, parking taxes etc. there is no need to use any other taxes. You are welcome.

Funding Breakdown

Great stuff Steve. Further follow up question: how does funding generated by federal gas tax revenues break down in terms of percentage of total cost with regards to interstate, state, county and local roadways?

Folow up questions

Steve,

This is awesome. Thanks for nutshelling this for us.

To follow up, does all the money from the gas tax go towards transportation projects? Or does some of it go towards other things?

And did the report mention what other taxes and fees go towards transportation projects?

Maybe roads should look for corporate sponsorhips, like transit and sporing events have been doing for years....We could have Congress Parkway brought to you by Apple and the Tostitos Interstate-94

Re: Follow up questions

This is awesome. Thanks for nutshelling this for us.

I'm copyrighting "To nutshell."

To follow up, does all the money from the gas tax go towards transportation projects? Or does some of it go towards other things? And did the report mention what other taxes and fees go towards transportation projects?

Historically, the report says, portions of it have been swept to cover gaps in other budgets. As for other taxes, the report doesn't itemize beyond stating that local government spends tons on roadways that comes from property taxes or other areas of their general funds. And it points to the recent bailouts of the federal highways program by the general fund, like ARRA, as evidence that transportation funding is, to nutshell this, a hot mess.

Finding those answers ain't easy in the report. Sometimes it seems to approach an answer, then swerve wildly away. Thanks for making go back and read through it AGAIN.

Maybe roads should look for corporate sponsorhips, like transit and sporting events have been doing for years....We could have Congress Parkway brought to you by Apple and the Tostitos Interstate-94.

How about Sudafed? Relieves congestion.

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