As the Highway Trust Fund nears a very real, potentially disastrous fiscal cliff, the discussion of how to raise revenues to invest in a system that leads to real economic development and enhances the country’s global economic competitiveness is beginning to pick up steam. Even though the conversations have begun the majority of Congress still appears to believe that Congress will go running off the cliff with the Trust Fund before getting down to work fixing it. And even while admitting it needs to be fixed there are still many in the House that believe public transit should be kicked out on the street to fend for itself. This view is increasingly at odds with the realities of metropolitan regions throughout the country.
A robust transit network is increasingly seen as critical for long-term competitiveness and economic growth in metropolitan regions throughout the country regardless of political affiliation. Nashville, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, and Denver are just a few metro regions that are joining the transit race in an attempt to cement their ability to compete for the best and brightest young professionals. To support these metros and others in their transit expansion plans a strong federal partner is needed which will require increased revenue to stabilize the Trust Fund. To provide sufficient transit funding, repair roads and bridges, and provide real transportation choices significant revenue increases will be needed. Transportation for America, a national advocacy group focused on transportation and economic development, estimates that it will require an additional $30 billion annually in revenue to address these needs. Ideas for accomplishing this include indexing the gas tax to inflation, a simple increase in the gas tax, an oil severance tax, or a combination of these. One thing is clear, however: This is an issue of political will in Congress and not a technical issue of how to do it.