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The Highway Trust Fund and Fiscal Responsibility

May 26, 2014

As is the case more often than not of late, Congress appears intent upon using political brinkmanship as a tool to hold the American people and our economy hostage. At stake are several hundred thousand jobs and much needed highway and other infrastructure projects endangered by the fact that the Highway Trust Fund is rapidly diminishing and may run out of funds by the end of summer. Congress needs to act promptly to shore up its financing.

The primary source of income for the fund has been the federal tax imposed on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel. This tax has not been raised since 1993. The fact that fuel conservation efforts ( in the form of higher vehicle gas mileage standards, use of hybrid and electric vehicles, etc.) and higher costs for construction, along with the fact that many projects have been delayed too long already, means that the tax revenues are no longer sufficient to keep the fund solvent for more than a few more months.

Raising the gas tax is particularly troublesome in an election year. That the tax is regressive in nature, affecting most those who are least capable of shouldering the increased burden makes raising it difficult for politicians of either major party to champion if they hope to remain in office come November. Other, more progressive forms of taxation have historically found stiff resistance  – particularly from the GOP Congressional delegations. Eliminating corporate tax loopholes that have been in existence for years could easily make up the difference and provide funding for construction projects already in the works, as well as much-needed further infrastructure improvements.

Our government has been aware of shortcomings in our collective infrastructure construction and maintenance for years now. Congress has chosen to deal with the problem in the same way it has dealt, for failed to deal with, funding for just about everything both in and out of the budget – kicking it down the road with a short-term solution to stay in office until the next time it rears its ugly head. The same has been true of the overall budget (remember the fiscal cliff, sequester, debt ceiling debate, etc.?). Comprehensive tax reform to more equitably fund the many various functions of the government has been avoided at all costs. Even when members of the Republican Caucus come up with plans trying to deal with the problems, the majority of members of their own party make sure the proposals never even come up for a vote.

The danger is that the fund goes bust without a necessary extension being passed by Congress. This would result in more bridges crumbling, more potholes causing accidents, more good-paying jobs lost and a general drag on the economy. This usually meets with the general approval of the Congressional Republicans, who have worked non-stop to put the brakes on any economic recovery at the earliest possible opportunity ever since the current administration took office in 2009. The economy has lagged for the vast majority of Americans as a result. Wages have stagnated and long-term unemployment has remained a problem for all but the very top-tier of the wealthy in America, while corporate profits and the stock markets continue to grow at historic rates.

We have experienced more than our share of trials and tribulations at the hands of the do-nothing Congress with their failed austerity and Reagan trickle-down economic policies. While cuts to safety net programs like food stamps, Social Security and health care assistance in its many forms remain constantly on the table, the real spending problems remain virtually untouched. While the GOP and even some Democrats in Congress continue to make sure that the most wealthy and the largest, most profitable corporations need not fear having to take even a small haircut, the vast majority of us are left to foot the bill for keeping them on top.

The fiscal shenanigans need to cease. The tax loopholes and corporate welfare that have been contributing mightily to the rapidly increasing gap in wealth and income that exists in our country need to be examined and adjusted to more adequately fund our government in the future. By adequately, I don’t mean threatening another government shutdown every year or so, or putting people out of work because Congress refused to procure the money necessary for infrastructure construction and repairs. Attacking the poor and the middle class who do perform the vast majority of the tasks necessary to keep our economy healthy and our nation safe from foreign invaders in order to cater to the desires of the wealthy has gone on for far too long.

The budget gurus who insist on balancing the budget need to learn that this country needs more money to be spent on it’s infrastructure and its people in order for it to thrive in the coming years. Private companies and wealthy individuals have been pampered for far too long in paying for the many benefits that the rest of us provide for them. They do not possess their wealth by any inherent worthiness provided by birth which entitles them to lord it over the rest of us because they can buy the government of their choice. Allowing them to continue to witness the deterioration of the livelihoods and quality of life for the vast majority of their fellow human beings when they are perfectly capable of improving the situation for all of us is not morally justifiable. The arguments put forth endlessly trying to lay blame on the personal faults of the downtrodden and the virtues of the well-off do not hold water.

Maintaining the status quo in this country with regard to race, gender,wealth, income or any other basis used to discern differences among various groups of  people is not working – for the economy, for foreign policy, or for basic human and civil rights. The time has come to stem the undue power and influence given by our government to the wealthy and their corporations and return it to where it belongs – the men, women and.children who are all equally human and deserving of the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that have been increasingly taken from most of us. Encouraging morally repugnant behavior in the treatment of the many by rewarding the few with further reward for their greed is just plain wrong. We still vote for these people in Congress. Now is the time to make them accountable for their actions and/or inaction.

Congress needs to pass a transportation bill that fixes our roads, bridges, etc. and fully funds it by removing tax loopholes and avoidance strategies that are unnecessarily benefitting those who need them least. The United States’ devolution into oligarchy must be replaced by true democracy. Wasting more time and money on individuals in Congress and other elected and appointed positions in our government who have totally lost touch with the masses of people whom they govern should no longer be acceptable. We need leaders, not rulers, in order to govern ourselves and improve our society.

Suggested Further Readings:

Here Comes Congress’ Next Big Economic Crisis, And It Could Be Even Worse Than The Fiscal Cliff

Trumka: ‘We’ve Been Talking About Infrastructure for a Long, Long Time. It’s Time for Action

700,000 Jobs at Risk If Highway Trust Fund Falters

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