Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Back to the Future, Ray LaHood Edition

Ray LaHood has recently advocated a 10-cent bump in the federal motor fuels tax (story here).
First reaction: Of course, blindingly obvious to most of us in the field.
Second reaction: Send the announcement back five years in time, when it could have done some good.
To be fair, Ray LaHood was always believed to be a closet gas tax supporter, but the White House, besieged by other problems, chose to punt on first down on transportation funding.  (Or maybe second down, if you count the Stimulus.)
Could a significant transportation Reauthorization bill, with real revenue, have been passed in 2009 or 2010?  We will never know.  The team was in place at USDOT: LaHood with his forceful personality and Capitol Hill savvy, backed by John Porcari and Polly Trottenberg and other “A” players.  Chairman Jim Oberstar said he could get 40 Republican votes in the House.  The economy – and especially the construction industry – desperately needed help.
Today the “A” team is gone, Oberstar and his majority are gone, and the number of Republicans who would vote for the gas tax is approximately zero.  And the prevailing culture seems to accept that we are poor nation, unable to stop our slow decline.
Imagine, if you will, where we would be now if a 10-cent program had been enacted four or five years ago.
The nation’s infrastructure would be on its way to a state of good repair.
The continued stimulus would have caused a faster economic rebound.
The federal budget would be in better shape, due both to increased revenue and economic growth.
Thousands of engineers and planners and other transportation professionals, rather than being laid off or underemployed, would be vigorously designing and building and learning.
The innovation of the Stimulus program would have continued its momentum, with exciting new 21st century projects.

Without a flux capacitor at hand we will have to deal with the present as we have it.  Thanks to Ray LaHood for speaking plainly.  We still have a future to make.

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