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A report released Tuesday paints a sobering picture of the failed funding mechanisms for road costs in Massachusetts and the nation. Addressing it would require the difficult decisions and responsible actions that too many elected officials, especially in Washington, appear incapable of.
The report from MASSPIRG (the Massachusetts Public Interest Group), and the Frontier Group, pops what the groups call the "users pay" myth when it comes to funding road construction and maintenance. Gasoline taxes and other fees imposed on drivers cover less than half of those costs, with the remainder being taken from revenue generated by income, sales and property taxes, along with other levies on people who may or may not drive.
The report found that the average U.S. household, regardless of whether or not its members drive, pays more than $1,100 in taxes and indirect costs that go to roads. When gas taxes don't rise along with inflation and construction costs, money will be found somewhere else or work will be left undone. In the U.S., we have a combination of both of those poor choices.
More non-user tax dollars are spent on highways than on mass transit, bicycling and passenger rail travel combined, according to the research groups. This speaks to the nation's overemphasis on highway travel at the expense of better economic and environmental alternatives. As to the environment, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated in the report that about 50,000 premature deaths annually are caused by pollutants generated from road transportation, along with related costs for health care and lost productivity.
With the Federal Highway Trust Fund nearly empty, MASSPIRG attorney Kirstie Pecci says Congress can no longer play "make believe" about the sources of transportation dollars. Playing make believe, of courses, is what Congress does best, in particular tea partiers making believe that artificially low gas taxes are saving their constituents money when in fact money is being lifted from a different pocket. All the while, the highways of the "greatest nation on Earth" rot into ruin and nations investing in passenger rail leave the U.S. standing at the station.
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