Tax Increase Not Needed For Bridge Repairs

DALLAS – In the wake of the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse, Congress is considering a 5-cents-per-gallon increase in the federal gas tax in the name of bridge repairs.  Yet while there are legitimate concerns about the safety of the nation's bridges, higher gas taxes are unnecessary, according to a new report by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

"We don't need to raise taxes to better ensure the safety of the nation's bridges," said NCPA Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett, co-author of the report.  "Congress just needs to be smarter about the money it spends and put a greater priority on safety rather than pork."

The poor condition of the nation's bridges has largely been ignored until now.  For decades, Congress has diverted Highway Trust Fund dollars away from potentially life-saving construction and repair to pork-barrel and earmarked projects.  For instance, the 2005 highway bill contained $2 billion annually for bridge reconstruction, but it also included nearly 6,500 pork-barrel projects costing more than $24 billion.  For example, Congress allocated:

  • $315 million for the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska.  
  • $5 million to improve air quality in Sacramento.
  • $4 million for bike paths and public parks in California.  
  • $4 million for streetscape, pedestrian improvements in Georgia.

The 2008 transportation appropriations bill seems likely to continue this trend:

  • Only 60 percent of federal gas taxes go to the construction and maintenance of highways and bridges.
  • Thirty percent goes to subsidize construction and maintenance of public transit facilities, such as bus terminals, light rail and subway systems.
  • The remaining 10 percent is diverted to other projects — currently 6,000 projects — including bike paths, museums, nature trails, historic building repairs and so forth.

"Proponents of the tax increase say 5 cents would be barely noticeable," said Burnett. "But we shouldn't have to stick it to drivers, particularly those with low-incomes who are particularly impacted by gas prices, just so Congress can protect their pet projects."