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Hit and Run: Looting the Highway Tax Fund

Written by Gary North on April 27, 2012

Americans pay 18.5 cents extra per gallon at the pump. This money goes to the U.S. government.

Then the money is looted by a handful of cities that subsidize public transit for low-income people who vote.

That’s right: the money that is supposed to repair U.S. roads is used to subsidize people with no cars. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In a typical year only about 65 cents of every gas tax dollar is spent on roads and highways. The rest is intercepted by the public transit lobby and Congressional earmarkers. Then there are the union wages that pad the cost of all federal projects. The New York Times reported in 2010 that 8,074 Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees made $100,000 or more in 2009 even as the system loses money.

Transit is the biggest drain. Only in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. does public transit account for more than 5% of commuter trips. Even with a recent 2.3% gain in bus and rail use due to high gas prices, public transit still accounts for a mere 2% of all inner-city trips and closer to 1% outside of New York.

Since 1982 government mass-transit subsidies have totaled $750 billion (in today’s dollars), yet the share of travelers using transit has fallen by nearly one-third, according to Heritage Foundation transportation expert Wendell Cox. Federal data indicate that in 2010 in most major cities more people walked to work or telecommuted than used public transit.

The first stage of the solution is simple: cut the federal gasoline tax to zero, turn the highways over to the states,  and let the states impose whatever taxes they want. Local voters can decide what they are willing to bear. The close tax money is spent close to taxpayers, the less control federal bureaucrats possess.

Let New Yorkers pay for their subway fees. Same with Chicagoans for their elevated trains (“els”). If they want to ride the rails, let them pay for it.

But the Left hates car owners. Cars provide freedom of movement. Public transit keeps citizens in line. “You travel on our schedule. You move where we choose to move you. Sit their and shut up.” Public transit is the Left’s idea of money well spent.

Gasoline pollutes the air, we are told. So, cars are almost as bad as tobacco, the Left thinks. Solution: tax the owners of cars. Then subsidize non-car owners.

This leads to deep resentment. Over 25 years ago, I heard a disgruntled citizen in Atlanta refer to the transit authority, MARTA, a “Move Africans Rapidly to Atlanta.” But the public transit lobby does not care. Public transit is an ancient sacred cow in urban America — a relic of the pre-automobile era. It gets votes for city councilmen at the expense of millions of drivers outside the big cities.

If the cities removed all licensing of taxis, we would see the end of public transit. We would see suppliers of short-term transportation services and consumers of short-term transportation services working out deals, hour by hour. The words hated in general by all Leftists (but demanded in their individual pursuit of happiness) would be repeated hour after hour, minute by minute: “Where to, Mac?”

That would restore freedom of movement. But city councilmen do not get re-elected based on their commitment to freedom. They get re-elected by robbing taxpayers outside of their cities in order to subsidize voters who live in their districts.

Next time you read of a city council whose members use public transit daily, let me know. The next one will be the first.

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6 thoughts on “Hit and Run: Looting the Highway Tax Fund

  1. sean murry says:

    Cut out the taxes and have the state repair the roads.

  2. It should be legally mandatory for all taxes to be disclosed at the pump. In every City, County, and State–listed right on the pump!–and itemized thusly, including Federal as well. Nice big sign (legally mandated font and size)! Relatively simple way to educate the electorate. Spread the word.

  3. I can see a free market taxi service developing overnight if the state ever got out of the way. To protect themselves, cabbies would (a) refuse to ferry anyone to an unsafe neighborhood, or for any other reason, and (b) demand payment up front (the fee being negotiable, of course). Also, very short term car rentals, already available in some cities, would be very popular, and very cheap. The possibilities are only limited by the imagination of the entrepreneurs.

  4. Wasn;t it Montgomery, Alabama, where Rosa Parks refused to "move to the back o de bus"? The ensuing public outrage and bus boycott was interesting.. anyone and everyone gave or accepted rides from anyone to everywhere, no regulation whatever. It was after some time the powers that thought they were realised they were losing… no one was NOT getting where they needed to go, and their system was simply not necessary. Rosa and her kind now calmly sit wherever they like on the bus, or elsewhere. Free market, and tossing of the "controls" fixed the problem. It works all over Latin America, too. I remember a taxi ride in Nicaragua, shortly after Mitch, a derelict old Lada, a relic from the Russian era there, picked me up, already had a passenger in the front seat… where to? Huembes. Diez Cordobas, por favor (about a buck at the time) for a ten mile ride straight to my destination. The thing ran, I rode. Interesting conversation with the gerente, and the woman passenger. The "colectivos" (chicken busses) all over the region are the stuff of legend.. but they work.

    The main "problem" in this crazy place, though? The government has no say so or control. they don't like that. A massive turnout.turnover is in order. In my "city" (pop ~30K) only fifteen percent of the cost of operating the bloated transit system comes from rider revenue. They come nowhere near where I live, thus I cannot use them at all. My bicycle is faster, and walking often is as well. Stupid……

  5. Every day I worry that a cop is going to stop me for driving erratically and charge me with DUI, when all I'm doing is trying to avoid all the potholes!

  6. "Sit their and shut up"….who wrote this???