Troublemakers on Wall Street

Opinion piece attacks reauthorization needs, downplays transportation crisis

Article May 16, 2003
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Everybody has their own book. It's loaded with
personal interpretations, custom-made definitions and noted observations.

A few weeks ago, a prestigious East Coast periodical
published an opinion piece ranting against the possibility of a bigger highway
bill. In my book, this newspaper is called the Wall Journal. I don't
think they deserve to refer to themselves as a street, not after an opinion
writer unleashed a verbal onslaught on the very ground which has provided
worldwide fame.

I was ready to drop the whole funding argument--at
least for a little while. It was on a shelf high above my thoughts. After all,
how much money talk can you process in just a short time frame? It seems
everywhere you bend an ear somebody is mouthing something about the reauthorization
of TEA-21, and rightly so. But a piece called "Highway Robbery" had
me once again reaching for my . . . um . . . ammo-packed . . . keyboard. So
much for drama.

Bullet points are the best I can do. The following are
arguments made by the opposition, followed by my defense enhanced by
information from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

* "Let's hope someone at the White House
is keeping an eye on GOP Congressman Don Young. The Alaskan heads the 75-member
House Transportation Committee, and he's already cooking up one woolly
mammoth of a highway spending proposal. Thought last year's $173 billion
Porky Pig farm bill was bad? You'd better sit down for this."

I hope one of President Bush's guards is paying close
attention to Don Young. Once you listen to what he has to say and see the
effects of a crumbling infrastructure the case to spend more money in the
highway/bridge industry is easy to make. And woolly mammoth is such a B.C.
term--lets call it the Mother Of All Bills, or MOAB for short.

* "Mr. Young needs (an increase in the federal
gas tax) to finance a transportation bill that would be the biggest public
works spending measure in modern times, and maybe going back to ancient Rome.
The price tag is $375 billion over six years, a whopping 60% increase over the
last highway bill that was itself a big-budget legend."

I don't think the Romans carried this kind of money,
but you are right--this is the stuff of legends. The last time there was a
federal gas tax increase that was purely for highways and mass transit was
1983, when it jumped from 5 cents to 9 cents. An increase in 1987 was for the
creation of the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Fund. It also was raised in
1990 and 1993, but the bulk of the bonus went toward deficit reduction. Over
the last 20 years the gas tax has not followed the rate of inflation. I thought
this was a capitalist country. There's something wrong here.

* "(Local voter rejection of tax increases for
infrastructure) is all something to remember when Mr. Young and his new best
friends in the road-building industry start advertising, as they put it,
?the overwhelming national support for increased highway and transit
funding to address America's transportation crisis.' The word
?crisis' is always the first refugee of political

Since 1997, 13 states have raised their gas taxes
legislatively, and each passed the state legislature with an average of 70%
support. Not one governor who signed a gas tax increase was defeated for

Futhermore over 41,800 people died on U.S. roads in 2000,
which cost the economy $230 billion in lost productivity, medical costs and
property damage. Fourteen percent of pavement on the federal-aid system is in
poor condition, and 29% of the bridges are structurally or functionally
deficient. Thirty-three percent of travel on the system is now under
congestion, which costs the economy $67.5 billion annually in lost productivity
and motor fuel. I could go further, but I'd say we have a crisis on our

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