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Guest Editorial: 'No' on gas tax? Offer better idea
The motor vehicle fuels tax could be on its way out. If so, we need to have something that replaces it.
This is the realistic view of U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, a leader on transportation issues, who this week said he is "a believer'" in the idea of funding highway improvements through a fee linked to how many miles people drive their vehicles.
This doesn't mean this will happen soon, if at all. But it does speak to the gravity of the state and national debates over how to fund needed highway and bridge improvements now and in the future.
No other specifics were offered by Graves, a veteran Republican law-maker from Tarkio, Missouri, but various approaches have been sug-gested.
These include odometer checks and other ideas that involve GPS, cel-lular technology or radio-frequency devices that would record dis-tance traveled and bill the vehicle owners.
Some of these approaches might raise privacy concerns, but all have the upside of allowing policymakers to transition away from heavy reliance on the fuels tax.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is backing a federal gas tax increase to address a backlog of highway maintenance and improvement pro-jects — in part because the organization thinks a miles-traveled fee is not close to happening.
But Graves sees little interest in a tax increase among conservatives in Congress.
"There are a lot of members out there who are just philosophically opposed," he says.
There also is the looming problem of what will happen in the future as vehicles increasingly become more fuel-efficient or instead rely on alternative fuels, such as electricity.
The trend for motor fuels usage could head sharply downward de-spite the ever-present need to maintain and expand the transporta-tion system.
People with fuel-efficient vehicles would pay more under the miles-traveled model, rather than with a gas tax, but the real benefits come in ensuring that all travelers would be paying a proportional share and that the total funds collected would rise as the population in-creases and travel increases.
Graves, in line to possibly be chairman of the House Transportation Committee, recognizes a new funding model likely is needed, par-ticularly for the future, and is openly talking about an option he sees as viable.
This is a model for others in Washington and our state capitals.
Far too many elected officials in the current climate refuse to even discuss how they plan to pay for fixing our crumbling highways and bridges.
If they are "no" on a gas tax, they need to offer a better idea.
The St.Joseph (Mo.) News-Press, March 8