By Russ Phillips
Congress recently returned to Washington and is faced with several critical issues in the coming weeks, among them a Highway Transportation bill.
The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) uses 2 percent of the federal Highway Account for trail development and other non-highway purposes. For FY 2015 this is $820 million.
Some may consider this an insignificant amount when total federal expenditures are considered. However, it is this thinking that has led to our federal government having an $18.3 trillion national debt. Just like a home budget, priorities must be established.
Trail development should be solely funded by state and local tax dollars, if at all. These levels of government are more accountable and more easily influenced by the citizenry than the national level.
Rails-to-Trails (RtoT), the leading advocate for trails in the nation, has 160,000 members and supporters and is aggressively lobbying for the continuation of the TAP. Forty-four percent of rail-trails in the U.S. have been built with federal support and more than 8,000 miles of former rail corridors “are waiting to be turned into great trails,” according to RtoT. In June a bill was introduced in the House that would have eliminated TAP. RtoT notes, “More than 12,000 supporters emailed your representatives and senators to oppose their bill—within 36 hours of our alert.” In July a Senate amendment was introduced to eliminate the TAP. You can be sure that this advocacy group is being heard on this matter. If you do not support TAP have you let your Senators and Representative know? RtoT has even stated, “…senators seeking to eliminate the program lack a constituency.” Really? I suspect that there are many, given the condition of highways, bridges and other infrastructure, that feel the federal gas tax should not be used for trail development. It is time for them to be heard.
Rail-to-Trails, also referred to as Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), is a client of two registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C.
What else is Rails-to-Trails saying?
…”Senate Bill Inadequately Funds Walking, Biking, but Provides Innovative Financing Options” (6/23/15)
…”Senate Passes ‘So-So’ Federal Transportation Bill. What’s Next for Trails?” (8/4/15)
…”Congress on Trails: Next Steps for Transportation Legislation” (9/17/15)
Do your Senators and Representative know your opinion on this matter? Are you part of Rails-to-Trails 160,000 members and supporters or do you feel differently about federal gas tax funds being used regarding trails?
The New York Times By Thomas L. Friedman, Op-Ed Columnist 8/5/15 If I got to ask one question of the presidential aspirants at Thursday’s Fox Republican debate, it would be this: “As part of a 1982 transportation bill, President Ronald Reagan agreed to boost the then 4-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax to 9 cents, saying, ‘When we first built our highways, we paid for them with a gas tax,’ adding, ‘It was a fair concept then, and it is today.’ Do you believe Reagan was right then, and would you agree to raise … Continue reading
The Rochester Sentinel By Patrick J. Toomey, U.S. Sen., R-Penn and Dan Coats U.S. Sen., R-Ind. 7/17/15 Voice of the People Every day, American families get in their vehicles and drive. Whether it’s dropping the kids off at school, commuting to work or going to the supermarket, we rely on our highways, bridges and roads to get us where we need to go. But can our transportation infrastructure rely on Washington? A substantial percentage of each state’s transportation budget relies on money from the federal Highway Trust Fund. This fund is financed … Continue reading
(Be sure and read the section “Diversions from Highway Spending.” The entire article with references is here. Highlighting was done by Admin. – Admin.) The Heritage Foundation By Michael Sargent 5/11/15 Abstract The Highway Trust Fund collects and distributes money dedicated to federal highway and transit projects. The trust fund’s current authorization expires at the end of May, two months before the fund is projected to run out of money due to a $13 billion deficit in 2015. The trust fund consistently spends more on highway and transit projects than it … Continue reading
State must find a way to deal with big issues The Indianapolis Star By John Ketzenberger 5/10/15 It already seems like an eon has passed since the Indiana General Assembly called it quits on a tumultuous session just 10 days ago. Is it too soon to start looking ahead? The simple answer is no, there are a lot of important issues that should get more time and attention from lawmakers, including transportation funding, rationalizing the tax structure between local and state government, and ensuring the state’s tax revenue streams are … Continue reading
The Journal Gazette (Ft. Wayne, IN) By Niki Kelly 5/3/15 INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers tackled a lot of issues in 2015 but not the one plaguing Indiana’s roads, bridges and infrastructure: lack of money. Instead, that will be the primary focus in two years as legislators must find a sustainable way to pay for state and local road needs at a time when fuel efficiency is going up and revenue from gas taxes is stagnating. “Something that is overlooked is Indiana’s infrastructure is crumbling – almost to the point of becoming … Continue reading
By Russ Phillips
In my opinion the roads – cities and towns, counties, Indiana highways and Indiana interstates – are not receiving adequate road maintenance including sealing and resurfacing as needed as well as prompt filling of potholes and this has been true for a number of years. Some will cite Indiana’s most recent winter as causing the problem and it certainly has made things worse, however, years of neglect has led us to the current roadway conditions. Indiana’s state government as well as the federal government have shirked their responsibility in establishing a long-range program for adequately maintaining our roads. Instead only enough is being done to get by, if even that.
It’s a matter of priorities. Governor Pence’s proposed state budget, in acknowledgement of Indiana’s bicentennial birthday, calls for the construction of a new state archives building ($25 million), the construction of a Bicentennial Inn at Potato Creek State Park ($25 million), the creation of an education center at the Indiana State Library ($2.5 million), the development of a commemorative Bicentennial Plaza ($2 million), and the funding of the Bicentennial torch relay initiative ($1.6 million). Where will the funding come from?
According to Pence the state’s cell tower infrastructure is currently being underutilized and “is not realizing its full commercial potential.” The state — which owns 150 cell towers — is looking to lease the excess capacity to private operators, producing at least $50 million, while still maintaining its critical public safety and emergency communication. State police communication is at the core of those needs. This would pay most of the cost of these projects. There is also a possibility of the new inn being privately financed as a business venture and this I would support.
It is my opinion that the above $56.1 million should be applied to road maintenance. What do you think? Other ideas?
Some of this article is from one or more of:
WBAA, Public Radio from Purdue
South Bend Tribune
The Statehouse File
We have an $18+ trillion debt. To chip away at it all that needs to be done is pay more taxes and/or change the priorities. Of course, there are many different government programs that contribute to this debt. As this debt continues to grow, ironically, our country’s deteriorating infrastructure continues to be ignored.
The country’s infrastructure – roads, bridges , seaports – are in need of attention. However, there seems to be little desire to do anything other than “a patch here and a patch there.”
It boils down to how much are we willing to spend (i.e. taxing the people) and what are the priorities? (This isn’t limited to infrastructure!)
Federal gas tax since 1993 has been 18.4 cents/gallon. (more)
Some advocate increasing this tax. Others favor reducing current expenditures. Part of this 18.4 cents is used for the Transportation Alternatives Program that includes the recreational trails program and the safe routes to school program. (more)
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail used $36 million of this 18.4 cents for its creation. (more)
The Transportation Alternatives Program was apportioned for the 2014 fiscal year almost $820 million and this included more than $81.5 million for the Recreational Trails Program. (more, including individual state apportionments)
A state-by-state listing of the 2012 Discretionary Grants with a description and funding amount are listed here. As a suggestion you might want to search “trail” in this information.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in its publication “Trust or Bust: Fixing the Highway Trust Fund” lists “Fig. 4: Options for Savings Within the Highway Trust Fund” and “Fig. 5: Options for Savings to Offset General Revenue Transfers.” One of the options for savings is to eliminate the Transportation Alternatives Program that includes the Recreational Trails Program. (more)
Paying more taxes or revising priorities becomes complicated when 535 Congressional members and the President must reach a consensus. Help them out by contacting your members. Regardless, we either pay more taxes and/or change the priorities.
(On August 8, 2014 H.R 5021 became law supporting transfers of General Funds into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). This provides authorizations for transit, highway and highway safety programs to be funded through the end of May 31, 2015.)
“TRUST OR BUST: FIXING THE HIGHWAY TRUST FUND”
The Committee for A Responsible Federal Budget
…Highway spending has exceeded gas tax and other dedicated revenues regularly over the past decade, and this shortfall will only grow over time. Dedicated revenues currently fund less than three-quarters of total HTF spending, a concern that lawmakers have addressed in recent years by transferring $54 billion of mostly general tax revenue into the HTF (only $15 billion was paid for and partially with a gimmick). In FY2015 alone, highway spending could exceed revenues by nearly $15 billion, and over the next decade that gap will approach $170 billion.
There is broad bipartisan support for funding highways and other transportation infrastructure, which can both help to create jobs in the near-term and enhance long-term economic growth by fostering commerce, communication, tourism, and trade. Unfortunately, policymakers have so far been unable to agree on how to pay for desired levels of highway spending. In the coming months, Congress and the President must identify and agree to a fiscally responsible solution to close the HTF shortfall.
The best approach to address the shortfall would be a long-term highway bill that aligns dedicated revenues with transportation spending. Transferring funds from general revenue into the HTF would be an acceptable alternative if and only if those funds were fully offset with real spending cuts and/or tax increases elsewhere in the budget.Under no circumstance should lawmakers rely on a deficit-financed (or gimmick-financed) general revenue transfer to fund the HTF.
In addition to addressing the funding shortfall facing our highways, policymakers should use the highway bill to ensure better prioritization of funding projects and, importantly, to reform the budgetary treatment of highway spending. The HTF has a unique treatment in the budget, making it immune to the normal forms of budget discipline that ensure policymakers account for the full costs of legislation they pass… (more) (NOTE: Options for savings within the HTF as well as to offset General Revenue transfers are listed later in the article.)