President Dwight D. Eisenhower — who led us in defeating the Axis Powers and led the country during eight years of prosperity — said that one of his proudest accomplishments was the construction of the U.S. Interstate Highway System.
Today, do we have the courage to repair and construct that system and the rest of our “Crumbling Infrastructure”? (That headline was the description of our national transportation lifeline in a recent commentary in the Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline.)
Of course, the crucial question is funding. And the answer, hardly imaginable six months ago, is an increase in the nation’s gasoline tax with revenues absolutely dedicated to this mission. The federal motor fuels tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, “generates one-third fewer dollars in real purchasing power terms than when it was last increased in 1993,” according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan research organization.
Look: No one enjoys a tax increase. But given the the broad and growing support for addressing the national infrastructure near-crisis, popular consensus for this increase can be marshaled with high-priority national political leadership. As Elaine S. Povich, author of the Stateline commentary, notes: “With infrastructure crumbling across the country, even some tax-averse Republicans are considering raising taxes. Cheap gasoline makes such levies more politically palatable, since consumers are less likely to notice the extra burden when they are filling up.”
David Brunori of Tax Analysts, a nonprofit provider of tax news and analysis , commenting on the gasoline tax — especially the varied indexing of state gasoline taxes — draws the bottom line on this crucial national challenge: “We should expect leaders to make the case for higher taxes when necessary.”
There can hardly be a more important financial subject to be addressed in the President’s forthcoming State of the Union message and the first draft of Congressional national budget.