Problem Solvers Need to Look Beyond Biden, to a More Dynamic Transportation Future
“Bipartisanship” is a word that still gets tossed around in official Washington. It doesn’t mean much beyond being lip service to an old political order that went extinct decades ago.
But there are those who still cling to the concept, such as the members of the congressional “Problem Solvers Caucus.” This bipartisan group’s latest effort – tackling how to pay for the trillions of dollars the Biden administration wants to spend on infrastructure.
Their solution is right out of the past: a tax hike (and more spending)…
…the Problem Solvers Caucus, proposed indexing gas and diesel taxes to inflation, highway construction costs, fuel-economy standards, or some combination of the three in a report on infrastructure… It lays out several possible fee increases, including a vehicle-miles traveled tax that would collect revenue from electric vehicles. Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax, which stands at 18.4 cents a gallon, since 1993.
It’s not so much a solution as it is nostalgia for when gas taxes paid for roads (though it’s better than Joe Biden’s plan, which is to tax the rich, tax companies, and tax others, just in case). To the group’s credit, it raised the idea of a vehicle miles tax as a possible long term replacement for the increasingly ineffective gas tax.
But what about the revolution underway in transportation. As the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole writes, there are…
….major changes underway in surface transportation. Even a very ambitious plan to rebuild (and selectively widen) the large majority of our Interstates—using toll finance and public-private partnership (P3) procurement—would take at least 30 years before most of those corridors were modernized and open to traffic. That’s 2050 or later.
The question not being asked is what else will change between now and 2050?
For one thing, the majority of personal motor vehicles will likely be electric by then. We have passed peak gasoline use and since electric vehicles don’t pay gas taxes we will have to start fairly soon replacing per-gallon fuel taxes with per-mile charges. Many of the remaining internal combustion engines get much higher miles per gallon and produce far fewer emissions than they used to, while the growing majority of electric vehicles (EV) will emit none.
How we get from A to B will change dramatically over the coming years, with things like a gas tax going the way of the dodo bird. Government needs to be looking to that future – the one with even more, and much cleaner mobility options. It’s coming regardless of whether the planners are ready for it.