May 9, 2014
At the Texas Public Policy Foundation's free market summit last month, many questioned Texas Tech University Professor Michael Giberson's call for Texas legislators to raise the state's 18.4 cents gas tax to pay for what is said to be a $4 billion annual shortfall in transportation funding.
Here is a free market economist calling for raising this user fee. How can this be? This call led to a piece at Breitbart.com.
Though Dr. Giberson did call for a higher state gas tax, there was an essential part of his recommendation that some may have missed: this should be done if the federal gas tax was reduced or eliminated that allow states to make transportation funding decisions instead of the federal government.
In response I favored proposals circulating in Congress to radically cut the federal fuel tax and related spending, and shift the responsibility for revenue collection and spending to the states. Congress has a duty to protect interstate commerce, but that need not involve a massive federal overhead to manage. I'd like to claw back the 25 percent fuel tax take from state educational funding, too. We amend the state constitution in Texas just about every other year, so that is no big deal, but because the amendment would appear anti-education I see it as a hard sell.
I also urged more use of toll roads, which have become much more efficient these days, and congestion-based tolls on roads where congestion is a frequent issue.
In the Breitbart article TPPF Vice President Chuck DeVore pushed back against my tax-raising views. He hasn't changed his views, but recently in response to President Obama's transportation spending proposal, DeVore's views and mine seem pretty close: cut the federal role dramatically and let the states decide the mix of taxes and tolls needed to fund transportation infrastructure for themselves.
Due to increased federal borrowing and general revenue support to the federal Highway Trust Fund, Texas has seen more money come from Washington, but the additional largess was borrowed money-money that is soon to dry up.
Texas would do far better running its own transportation affairs. Turning Texas interstates into toll roads? Maybe, maybe not. Returning Texas fuel taxes to Texas? That's a resounding yes!
While differing views are encouraged along the path to solve Texas' transportation funding issues in the least intrusive way, there is one thing that free market types can agree: let states decide their own transportation future!"