UPDATE: House Passes Gas Tax Increase
MODEST REFORM MEASURE INTRODUCED, BUT PREMISE STAYS THE SAME
On Tuesday the House considered the gas tax hike bill (H.3516). House leadership proposed an amendment that would divert 20 percent of the vehicle registration and license fees to the Education Improvement Act fund (protecting the current education funding structure). The amendment also gave the governor power to remove Department of Transportation commissioners.
A number of other amendments were proposed, including two that would have instituted small tax cuts and/or credits in an attempt to “offset” the gas tax hike. Both of these were ruled out of order, while a third amendment that enacted a $50 tax credit for vehicle owners starting in 2022 was defeated.
One amendment would have eliminated the DOT commission and the body that screens DOT commissioners, the Joint Transportation Review Committee, placing the DOT directly under the governor. That amendment failed by a vote of 33-84.
There was some talk among House leaders about accountability, with majority leader Gary Simrill, for example, saying that “a clear line of authority works best when you have one person to answer to.” Even so, the House refused to eliminate the eight-member DOT commission and put the DOT directly under the governor.
The bill as amended passed the House by a vote of 97-18.
A few remarks made by lawmakers during the debate, moreover, are worth further scrutiny:
Most important is a clear line of authority. True. Most important is a clear, direct line of authority from the voter to the DOT through the governor. The commission structure obfuscates and confuses the process, making accountability very difficult.
The infrastructure maintenance fund in this bill ensures lawmakers will not dip into road funding for other purposes. False. Lawmakers can easily override that type of provision with budget provisos, and routinely do so.
We don’t have enough revenue to fix the roads. Unproven. What we do know is that road funding has steadily increased over the last eight years, and that the funding system is rife with favoritism and inefficiency.
Putting the DOT under the governor wouldn’t fix the roads either. True. DJJ, DOR, DSS are all agencies that have done poorly under the governor’s oversight. In itself, a governance structure will not fix the roads. But accountability ensures that the system’s failures will be addressed, while a lack of accountability ensures they won’t be.
Not all the gas tax is currently going to roads. True. Of the current 16.75-cent gas tax, less than one cent goes to paving state non-federal roads.