MARK POPE: ‘No trust’ in transportation trust fund [OPINION]
‘No trust’ in transportation trust fund
I was talking with a group of friends the other day, and stated that Louisiana needs to put more money in its roads. Man, did I strike a nerve. I was called everything but a communist. However, my statement came with two HUGE qualifiers.
First, the state and federal systems which pay for constructing and maintaining roads are both broken. Second, the people have no faith and “trust” in the government-run transportation ‘trust’ funds. It’s undeniable, though, that more money dedicated to, and actually going to improving Louisiana’s roads – ranked near the bottom nationally – is sorely needed.
The legislature’s attempt to increase the state’s gasoline excise tax during the recent regular session was ill-timed and devoid of details. People want to know where the money goes when they pay taxes at the gas pump. Many Louisianans do not know that the state gasoline excise tax – 20₵ per gallon for gasoline and diesel – goes to fund much more than roads. The “other” expenditures are why our roads are in such poor condition.
Money from Louisiana’s transportation trust fund also goes to maintain deep water ports, expand and maintain airports, maintain railroads, and to engineer flood control on highway construction projects. Who knew, and who did not tell us? The funding formula for transportation expenditures, which we pay for at the gas pump, must be drastically changed.
In addition to each state’s gasoline excise tax, all states pay an additional 18.4₵ per gallon of gas at the pump – 24.4₵ for a gallon of diesel – in federal fuel taxes. Louisiana pays a combined total, state and federal taxes, of 38.4₵ per gallon of gasoline at the pump. If you’re pumping diesel, you pay 44.4₵ per gallon at the pump here in the state. The national average for state and federal gasoline taxes combined at the gas pump is 49.6₵ per gallon, diesel is higher.
Louisiana’s roads are also expensive to maintain because the southern part of the state – where most of our state’s population resides – is geologically built on soft marshy soil mixed with excessive river sediment. Additionally, our state’s heavy annual rainfall totals and our slumping soil is not conducive to long-lasting, heavily- traveled roads.
We need more money to improve roads in our state. So we must go crawling to Washington, D.C. to beg for our share of the federal fuel taxes that our state sends to unscrupulous politicians in the nation’s capital. The transportation ‘trust’ fund in D.C. is severely broken, and broke, yet politicians continue to spend money the federal government simply does not have.
Billions of dollars from the trust fund are wasted on non-road projects, based on the nonsensical notion of creating “environmental sustainability,” and combating phantom climate change. The projects include high-speed rail systems, numerous massively underutilized (low ridership) public transit systems, Amtrack, and bike paths and sidewalks. Road maintenance suffers. In addition to the fuel taxes going to D.C., Congress has subsidized the transportation trust fund with an additional $70 billion since 2008.
We must stop the madness and reckless, irresponsible spending – here in the state and in Washington. We must put “trust” back in transportation trust funds by fixing the broken system that doesn’t work – then we can fix the roads. If the broken system were to be fixed, maybe we would not require more money for roads . . . or more taxes.