A dead end for road dollars

By Scott Mooneyham | Apr 06, 2014

RALEIGH -- As state transportation officials take up the knotty issue of how to pay for roads in the future, they better first understand the political thicket in which state legislators have left them.

Members of the state Board of Transportation again this week discussed how North Carolina can pay for road construction and repair as more fuel efficient cars and alternative-energy vehicles chip away at the dedicated gas tax that now goes for that purpose.

According to Department of Transportation estimates, gas consumption in the state will decline from 5.6 billion gallons in 2007 to 5.1 billion in 2025, representing about a 9-percent drop. That means fewer dollars collected from a gas tax based on gallons consumed.

Meanwhile, the state population, and the number of motorists, will rise. The population is projected to increase by 2 million people over that period.

It doesn't take a genius to see that those numbers eventually won't work.

A report received by a committee of the Board of Transportation contemplates, among other ideas, a vehicle-mile tax as an alternative or addition to the gas tax.

It's not a new idea. Transportation officials and legislators have been talking about a vehicle-mile tax for a while.

The report says a half-penny -per-mile tax is projected to raise $495 million per year, while costing the average motorists $6.25 per month.

Besides the obvious -- that new taxes are not popular -- the notion of tracking mileage driven by motorists has always been problematic.

To do it accurately, the state would have to force GPS-type devices on cars so that miles driven within North Carolina's borders could be distinguished between those driven in other states.

That tracking, though, would been by a lot people as an invasion of privacy.

Collecting the mileage driven during annual inspections wouldn't show how many miles were accumulated in other states.

Transportation officials, though, sound pretty intent on figuring out something soon, even if the McCrory administration has already committed to holding off on any revenue ideas until after a 25-year transportation plan is released later this year.

"We always thought we had a few more years, and now I don’t think we feel that way any more," BOT member Cheryl McQueary told The News & Observer of Raleigh recently.

McQueary and her fellow board members may need to change their feelings.

Regardless of the need, when legislators passed a major, top-heavy tax overhaul without addressing the transportation dilemma, they expended a tremendous amount of political capital. To believe that they could pass another major tax measure anytime soon, especially one that might fall heavily on the middle class, is unrealistic.


Meanwhile, so much of the focus of transportation officials on user-related taxes ignores a basic fact: Everyone in the state, whether they drive or not, depends on a good transportation network.


Businesses need roads to get goods to market; consumers need roads to get those goods.


There is nothing wrong with bringing the use of broader taxes into the discussion.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Janet Presson | Apr 08, 2014 08:24

While I do agree that our roads need to be maintained across the state, we do not need more taxes!  We need to elect folks who won't waste the abundant taxes we are already paying!  Also, we need to better audit and make sure our money is well spent on appropriate projects and if companies do substandard work, we should recoup what DOT has paid them.  WE PAY PLENTY OF TAXES BUT THEY ARE OFTEN WASTED!  That can be fixed!

Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 08, 2014 10:46

Welcome to the conversation, Ms. Presson!  I propose America is in need of a healthy dose of "accountability".  Exactly as you suggest, there is nothing lacking with the amount of taxes paid -- it's the prioritization, accountability, and wasteful spending that needs work.  We need to change the conversation less about "What can government take?" and more about "What does government owe us for what they take"?

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 09, 2014 09:02

               As an owner/operator of several trucks for many years, I had the responsibility to report my mileage use in the various states I drove. My permitted license cost was based on the previous year's miles based on what I had reported. Some states required separate filing/paying. Sometimes at a port of entry to the state. IFTA changed all that but I still had to report all miles driven in each state. Same should apply to ALL vehicles that use OUR roads. Too many people have gotten a free ride for too long.

                         Most certainly contractors should be held accountable for shoddy work. Many years ago, Ohio had repaved US 70 at the Indiana line East towards Columbus. The morning it was opened I was the third semi. We led the way as no cars were allowed to pass. Evidently Ohio DOT had suspicions pavement was bad. They were right. The two trucks in front of me had alreddy made grooves in the road. We were pulled into the rest area East of the Ohio/Indiana Line. Eventually let go. Road was repaved again.

             My main loading point was Weirton Steel at Weirton, W.Va. Primarily, I either went south down Ohio 7 to US 77 or US 70 to US 77 or west across US 22 to US 77. Ohio 7 was repaved at least twice with parts 4 or more times. First bridge west on US 22 was replaced but fell about 6 inches not long after. Not far past rest area on US 70 West-bound. a hole opened up one night. A unknown mine had given way under the road.

                 A very real problem we have with roads is that they are designed with a certain and particular load per tire going a certain speed. When these limits are abused, damage occurs. The best example of this is the entrance and exit ramps to weigh stations. They are constantly tore up.

                A very real problem is that there are too many people not paying their fair share in taxes. It has been reported that over two trillion dollars are being held overseas to avoid taxes. This needs to be remedied. Even Mitt had to make a deal when it was brought out that his Mrs. had millions in a Swiss account.

                Taxes are what We owe to pay for what OUR duly elected representatives chose to do in OUR behalf. Taxes are OUR obligation to pay.



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