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U.S. Opinions: Washington

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No road work ahead

From an editorial in Thursday’s Washington Post:

Both parties want to do nothing but squabble before this year’s election. Not much will stop them – except, perhaps, this dose of reality: If political point-scoring is all they accomplish over the next several weeks, work on the nation’s roads, bridges and rails will come to a halt.

The federal Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money this summer. Without a fix, that translates into high costs now to stop and restart projects once funding comes through and higher costs in the future as contractors build the risk of funding holdups into their prices. Failing to shore up the fund in time would be plain legislative malfeasance.

But, to date, Washington’s moves to fix the funding problem haven’t been far from that low distinction. The smart and obvious way to fund federal transportation policy is to create a steady, long-term funding source to finance multi-year projects, one that relies on fees from users – such as a higher gas tax or a vehicle-miles tax. But lawmakers haven’t raised the gas tax since 1993, preferring instead budgetary gimmickry and short-term patches to fill holes in the fund.

The latest news is that House Republican leaders are drawing up a measly one-year trust fund fix. They are proposing to offset the plan by ending most U.S. Postal Service Saturday delivery, which would take 10 years of savings to pay for that one year of proposed highway spending.

Don’t get us wrong: The Saturday postal delivery change makes a lot of sense on its own. But continuing to jury-rig the highway budget with unrelated “offsets” does not.

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