John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Cursing My Government For Not Using My Taxes to Fill Holes With More Cement

Posted on August 4, 2015
VA 07 2012 I495 HOT facility 3664.JPG

"VA 07 2012 I495 HOT facility 3664" by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

“You fell asleep in my car I drove the whole time

But that's okay I'll just avoid the holes so you sleep fine

I'm driving here I sit

Cursing my government

For not using my taxes to fill holes with more cement”

My son gets a kick out of that new song, “Tear in My Heart”, by Twenty One Pilots.

I think it’s kind of funny too.

Although the bitter truth is that most of the taxes mentioned in the song are not meant for filling holes with more cement.

Those taxes are used for other things, like defense, welfare, and to subsidize farm spending. Theoretically, money to pay to for fixing potholes and building bridges is supposed to come from the Highway Trust Fund.

That fund was established in 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Highways and Defense bill into law, which helped to build the Interstate Highway system. Ike had first been inspired to build our national highway system as a young Lieutenant Colonel who travelled from Washington to San Francisco on the famed Lincoln Highway as part of a publicity stunt to increase support for public funding of roads and bridges in 1919.

He later gained inspiration from the German Autobahn when he oversaw the destruction of the Third Reich in 1944 and 1945.

When it was initially built, the American highway system was explicitly linked to United States Air Force bases and other military installations.   And in fact, some money was diverted from the defense budget to pay for it at first.

The Highway Trust Fund was a smashing success at first, but over time, it has been leaking resources. In 1982, Ronald Reagan signed legislation to increase the gas tax and add some funding for mass transit.

The Budget deal in 1990 raised the gas tax by 14 cents per gallon signed by President George H.W. Bush. If you don’t remember, he was the one who promised “No New Taxes.”

In 1997, the House Transportation Chairman, Bud Shuster, won a showdown with Newt Gingrich and successfully redirected trust fund money that had been earmarked for deficit reduction back to the trust fund.

That was the last time that the gas tax has been tinkered with by Congress.   In fact, what politicians have most learned about user fees on petrol is to no longer raise them.

George Bush lost his election in 1992 because of his efforts to raise the gas tax and Bill Clinton lost the Congress when he raised it shortly afterwards.

Just as Congress decided to stop raising the gas tax, they also demanded that car companies make their automobiles more fuel-efficient.

That’s kind of like increasing cigarette taxes so much that people stop smoking. It kills off a potential revenue stream.

Both the cessation of smoking and increasing fuel efficiency are worthy goals. But when your whole highway system is basically built by those declining revenue streams, well, then, you have a problem.

And guess what? We have a problem.

The Highway Trust Fund is going broke. It doesn’t get enough revenue to pay for fixing potholes, let alone fixing bridges.

Congress is trying hard to find other ways to bridge the gap, so to speak. They don’t want to raise the gas tax because that’s bad politics.

But they are willing to consider all kinds of other suspicious measures and budget gimmicks to find extra revenue.

One idea, considered by the Senate, raises taxes on small, medium and large community banks that are Members of the Federal Reserve, even though of most major industries, the banks rely on highways the least.

It’s a complicated scheme, but the upshot is that the whole American banking system could be seriously weakened if this provision is allowed to go forward, according to Financial Services Chairman Richard Shelby.

But desperate times require desperate measures.

Another idea is forcibly raise taxes on income parked overseas by American companies. I don’t know when Republicans got in the business of raising taxes to pay for spending, but neither this banking scheme nor this repatriation idea is consistent with conservative principles.

It seems to me that if that if we are going to have a Highway Trust Fund, we should pay for it and if we pay for it, we should do it honestly by raising user fees on people who use our highways and byways.

I can understand the frustration of the Twenty One Pilots. The government should be pouring more concrete to fix those bumpy roads. But they should pay for it honestly, without gimmicks.

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