Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hutchison's gas tax plan wrong on several levels

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, in a move designed more to boost her gubernatorial candidacy than anything else, plans to introduce legislation today that would allow Texas to keep all the money collected in taxes at the fuel pump. In other words, Texas would secede from the national highway program.

Her reasoning is that Texas is shortchanged because only 92 cents of every dollar we pay in federal fuel taxes ever finds its way back to Texas. Alaska, on the other hand, receives $4.21 for every dollar their citizens pay, so I'm doubting Hutchison's bill is going to get that much support from the big state up north.

Here are my problems with her idea. It's all highway driven and no transportation program or idea should be undertaken today without including some rail, especially high speed rail, components. And just when the federal government, thanks to the current administration, is beginning to address the nation's need for rail infrastructure, Hutchison's bill would exclude Texas from participation.

Second, according to the story about the bill in the Dallas Morning News, "Her Highway Fairness and Reform Act would let states keep all of the federal fuel taxes collected within their borders, on condition they use the funds to maintain interstate highways and for other road projects." Rail projects -- those that are needed the most here -- would be barred from receiving these much needed funds.

But, like I said, earlier, this legislation is not about solving Texas' transportation woes -- it's about positioning Sen. Hutchison against criticism from her probable GOP gubernatorial foe, Gov. Hair, who has accused the state's senior senator of not looking out for the best interests of Texas (as though Gov. Hair had looked out for the interests of anyone but the rich fringe right wing of the Republican Party).

If Hutchison was really interested in transportation in her home state she would demand an audit of the all the funds that Texas currently receives from both the federal and state gas taxes and then make sure more of those funds were dedicated to regional and statewide rail projects. We need to find ways to get polluting cars off the roads, not to build more roads to put more cars on.

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