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Short-term, yes. Solution, no.
From the Times:
> Gasoline tax revenue is falling so fast that the federal government may not be able to meet its commitments to states for road projects already under way, the secretary of transportation said Monday.
> The secretary, Mary E. Peters, said the short-term solution would be for the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account to borrow money from the fund’s mass transit account, a step that would balance the accounts as highway travel declines and use of mass transit increases. Both trends are being driven by the high price of gasoline and diesel fuel.
Got that? High gas prices are shifting people from cars into mass transit. The only appropriate response, clearly, is to rob the mass transit account to pay for highway projects.
Since we ran John McCain’s response to our gas tax petition a few weeks ago, it bears mentioning that McCain subsequently re-upped his call for a gas tax holiday. Recall that one of our objections to this meritless proposal was that suspending the gas tax would divert funds from needed road and bridge repairs. Now, even without the holiday, the highway account is predicted to hit zero sometime in the next fiscal year, prompting administration officials to eye that nice, plump mass transit budget.
Of course, the ostensible purpose of the gas tax holiday is to ease the economic burden on drivers, something that a gas tax holiday can’t actually accomplish, but mass transit might.
There is this hopeful bit buried at the bottom of the story:
> As for a longer-term solution, Ms. Peters said that on Wednesday she would propose a new arrangement for paying for highways, based in part on private capital financing and use of tolls that vary by time of day.
Mmm, congestion pricing. But isn’t this proposal going to raise the cost of driving? I thought the ne plus ultra of energy policy was cheap gas, now and forever. Perhaps the tide really is turning…
*Update:* Here’s a bit more on the long-term plan for replacing falling gas tax revenue. Although I’m not in favor of dropping the gas tax, the rest of the package sounds interesting — possibly good for the environment, our infrastructure, and taxpayers alike. It’s hard to say without knowing the details, but higher road tolls and more private investment certainly sounds like an experiment worth conducting.