The people in charge of our state-funded roads are worried that they might not have enough money.
The state’s fuel tax, the primary funding mechanism for state transportation projects, is showing signs of weakness and has long-term challenges, as Tulsa World reporter Randy Krehbiel showed in an interesting story last week.
Before we go any further, we need to get this thought out of our mind: If you want to know how to run an essential state service without enough money, you might want to go talk to a teacher.
Have the AAA hold a bake sale.
Tell your contractors that we honor their commitment to their mission, and that we honor it by asking them to live in poverty.
And then suggest that they pay for road striping out of their own bank account.
OK, that helps.
On a more rational plane, we’ll concede that the state’s long-term failure to fund public schools adequately doesn’t excuse allowing state roads to fall further into disrepair for lack of money.
And there is reason to be concerned about the fuel tax as the source of that money.
Gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles are becoming increasingly efficient. If you buy less fuel, you pay less fuel tax.
Electric vehicles are becoming more numerous. If you buy no fuel, you pay no fuel tax.
In the days when the V-8 reigned supreme, the fuel tax made sense. It was easy to collect and was a generally fair user tax — those who put more wear on the roadways paid more to maintain them.
Now, we have electrified freeriders. A gasoline-powered car and an electric car of the same weight are responsible for about the same amount of wear on the highway, but one is paying all the costs.
It could be argued that a fuel tax is an ecological carbon tax, but that doesn’t reflect much understanding of how most electricity is made in Oklahoma.
The fuel tax is regressive in design. Rich and poor pay the same rate. Because electric cars are rarely owned by working-class people, their exemption from the tax means a greater portion of the burden of supporting the state’s roads and bridges is falling on those least able to pay it.
One suggested solution is using a mileage tax instead of a fuel tax. That would even out the burden on all drivers and move toward a sustainable tax base.
Such a scheme faces difficult questions, including how to assess mileage effectively and how to do so without invading a driver’s privacy.
Here’s a bet: The state figures out how to fund roads and bridges adequately, fairly and constitutionally before it figures out how to fund public schools adequately. Any takers?
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