Like a drum beat in the background for nearly three years now we’ve heard that we need to pass stimulus bills to fund “shovel ready infrastructure” . Somehow we have left our roads and bridges in such disrepair that failure to raise taxes to spend money on their repair is simply…is simply…is simply too much for words.
That idea has always left me a little unsatisfied. I mean, how do we budget for and then pay for the repairs of bridges and roads normally? I mean, does it take a stimulus bill to pay for this maintenance?
Look, an asteroid shower hits roads and bridges Kentucky, I’m all for a spending bill that repairs those bridges and those roads. But the routine upkeep. That CAN’T require stimulus. Right?
Federal highway programs are funded not from general tax revenue but from various highway user taxes, mostly the federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. Legally, all those monies constitute the source of funding for the Highway Trust Fund. When Congress decides on spending for highways (and since the Reagan era, for mass transit), the dollars are supposed to come from this Trust Fund.
What the appropriations committees used to do was to approve funding for those purposes that was less than the user-tax revenues coming in. That meant federal revenues for surface transportation exceeded federal spending in that area, which made the overall budget deficit look smaller than it really was—and was manifestly unfair to the highway users who were paying the bills.
See, they tax us on usage–which is AS IT SHOULD BE- for the infrastructure that we use. Then they don’t use that money to keep the infrastructure up. Then they claim that we need to pass massive stimulus bills to fix the infrastructure that they didn’t fix with the money they spent somewhere else.