Thursday, May 19, 2005

Do You Ever Wonder Why?

Well I sure do. Not to steal Andy Rooney's line but for a while now I've been wondering why, suddenly, do all the new highways have to have a toll on them? One thing to keep in my here is that the use of toll roads and the dislike of them is nothing new. As this history of toll roads shows us, as well as the act of shuntpiking, as a way of boycotting toll roads. Now in my opinion the main difference between tolls roads and what I will call highways -- like interstate highways -- is who pays.

Bare with me for a minute. With the building of the interstate highway system a precedent was established that the federal government would pay the majority of the costs to build roads throughout the country. Building this infrastructure would be good for the economy and society in many ways, i.e., transport goods, get people to work and recreation, visiting family and friends. It was determined to be a worthwhile project, it had public and bipartisan support spanning several decades. Then of course, in the '80's, government was deemed evil and taxes the most evil thing on the face of the earth.

This is where the who pays comes in. Up and until the '80's the wealthy paid considerably more in income taxes than they do today, and when the interstate highway system was started they paid much more. Republicans have always tried to make a big issue of the fact that JFK wanted to lower taxes in order to spur economic growth when he was president. That was true, but when he took office the top tax bracket was 91%. You see when the federal government is bringing in that kind of money it can afford to pay for many worthwhile things. By the time Jimmy Carter left office the top tax bracket was down to 70%, by 1982 it was 50% and with that came the onset of massive deficits. Eventually in the late '80's it got as low as 28%, H. W. Bush raised it up to 31% and didn't get a second term, Clinton raised it to 39.6% -- and wiped out the deficit -- and today it is at 35% and the deficit is again skyrocketing.

But how does all this pertain to toll roads? Well with the federal government no longer able to provide the bulk of the money to build roads, the states are left to foot the bill. With our state being run by Republicans they will not raise taxes on the wealthy, so they will employ a regressive toll/tax to pay for highways, which places the burden more on the poor and middle class.

By lowering of the tax burden on those who have received the most benefit of the freedoms this country has to offer, the poor and the middle class are left to pay the toll for building roads.

The tax rate statistics are from here.

This article, Toll roads, tax roads or both?, is from last week's Hill Country News and talks about how to defer the cost of tolls by allowing local governments can impose a gas tax, HB 3540:
Article 15 would authorize certain counties in or adjacent to a regional mobility authority to impose a local option gasoline tax of up to ten cents per gallon. Counties would transfer the proceeds to mobility authorities. Proceeds could be used only to reduce or waive tolls or reduce the number of miles of roadway subject to tolls. A county with a population of more than 2 million could not impose the tax.
Doesn't that sound great?

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