This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
There’s a very frustrating piece of our state constitution*: any tax you put on gasoline MUST go to building and maintaining roads. This is frustrating because increased fuel taxes would be a great way to discourage driving and help prepare us for peak oil. Plus, as real prices go up we can lower fuel taxes to ease the pain. However, any amount we increase fuel taxes goes to building new roads – hardly an incentive not to drive.
Of course the only way out of this mess is to change our constitution – not an easy job. But I see a great opportunity to do just this. Our state is undergoing an extreme budget crisis. Services have been cut to the point of really affecting lives, yet taxes can’t be increased. I see this as a great time to use legislators’ greed to help break the gas tax / road building link. We could build support to allow the legislature to break into the gas tax piggy bank, though only during economic emergencies. This would require the same constitutional change, but we’d get much more political support.
Road building isn’t a necessity – it’s a luxury. And it’s very easy to defer most construction until budgetary times are better. And if there’s one thing politicians love to do it’s defering spending. This balances the budget short-term and leaves problems for future politicians. The end result will be the need to increase fuel taxes to fix what the politicians will inevitably break – which gets us to our prefered solution, removes the constitutional roadblock, and sets up a system that future legislators can use to give us a good fuel tax balance.