Transportation Bill Big for La.? Really?

Transportation Bill Big for Louisiana

That’s the headline over an opinion piece by Gerard Shields, our Advocate’s fine Washington Correspondent. Mr. Shields seems to have caught whatever ails that bedraggled city. For he says:

“Louisiana has a transportation budget of a $1.75 Billion a year, receiving $740 million from the feds.”

Only that’s not quite true. The state did not “receive” $740 million from the feds – the feds took that money and probably more from Louisiana and are now returning it. After all, as Shields duly notes: the federal Highway Trust Fund gets 18.4 cents per gallon of gas sold right here in Louisiana. Which money goes up to see the cherry blossoms, before coming back to us. Probably with strings attached. Certainly minus the money that the HTF needs to operate, and the money for the federal Department of Transportation’s fine building up there in DC. Not to mention all the work that must go into Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development’s applications and requests to get the money back.

It would be far better if the $740,000,000 had stayed right here in Louisiana, and along with the oh, what? $10 to $20 million in overhead costs up in DC? That should have stayed here too.

While the federal government might be spending the $740 million in Louisiana on say, Federal Interstates and Federal Highways, which is their job, the money still came from here. Washington is giving us our own money – not some extra gift, as Shields implies it – unless it got the money from some schnuck of a state that couldn’t get its fair share. In fact, perhaps, and could be, we’re the schnuck giving a cool Billion Bucks to DC, because some Congressman with a bit more clout, say like the now-gone US Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn, took the money and ran. This Oberstar, who Shield’s gushes was a “36 year veteran” of the house and chairman of the US House’s transportation committee, but forgot to mention sent packing by a populace fed up with money to DC and nothing for the home state unless one begs and says pretty please, almost certainly crowed up their in Minnesota “I got more money from Louisiana for us!” Thus some $260,000,000 from Louisiana might well have been given to some other state, for some horse trading perhaps, to get something done. But that didn’t help us a bit, even if we did get some of it back. To “earn” 75 cents for every dollar “spent” is a 25 cent “loss.” No matter how you look at it. So Louisiana may have had an actual shortfall from what it raised through gasoline taxes. It could be possible. Shields doesn’t bother to even consider the matter, so enthralled is he with the largesse.

Just like it is possible that we paid only $500,000,000 out of the state to cover the amount received – and thus we’re ahead of the game. Yippee! And say, the good people of Mississippi sent their money to DC and didn’t get it all back and it’s now being spent here – but alas, Mississippi is not getting their fair share. And it is a constant refrain of every state that they are to get back from the feds exactly what they paid to DC. So why pay it? Why not keep it in the first place and save the FOC – the federal overhead charges.

Or maybe this money “received” was even some other tax collected by the feds from Louisiana that is now being put to roads because perhaps the 18.4 cents per gallon is not enough money, supposedly, for the feds to build what they want to. However, that means that Louisiana is out that amount to put towards things that might be more useful by its reckoning, which I dare say would trump even Oberstar’s “encyclopedic knowledge” (of which Shields is rhapsodic almost) of Federal highway issues.

Shields laments the “per-gallon tax hasn’t been raised since 1993…” and so what? Why must the tax be raised? I’d say cut it, but I say that about every tax. With all the more people and more driving, there should be more clumps of 18.4 cents to put into the pot. Or did the fall off in Obama’s economy impact the driving and thus less taxes are collected?

Or, weirdly, did the EPA’s effort to increase car mileage per gallon now negatively impact the sale of gasoline because, well, less of it is sold since we go further on the same amount of the stuff? Perhaps the gas tax should be raised, I don’t know. But I do know that it “hasn’t been raised since 1993” is an awfully lousy reason to do so now. But when did anyone in Washington ever think that cutting taxes was a good idea?

Oddly, Shields says this: “If there is one issue that Congress members can agree on, it should be on funding road and bridge projects in their districts and states.” Well, yes, I suppose they should. Only the way to do that more fairly and less expensively would be to pay the gasoline tax collected from any state’s drivers right to that state’s department of roads and bridges so that we pay for what we can afford, and other states get what they can afford with the tax collected there. But by conflating the money from Pearl River Louisiana and Pearl River Mississippi we keep setting up the horse trading for political power – and who cares about the roads – for it’s the power and the glory that goes to a 36 year veteran’s head and not worrying about some road 1500 miles from his homes in either DC or St. Paul. Creepily, Oberstar tried to squeeze in $500,000,000,000 into the already over bloated federal budget.

If Shields and Oberstar gave a rat’s tuckus for the roads of Louisiana they both would have clamored for the gas tax collected in Louisiana to be applied to Louisiana – and if we here though it better to get 20 cents a gallon instead of 18.4 that would be our business. And we wouldn’t have to discuss it with someone from Minnesota, who should be worrying about his own state’s roads. I know I don’t really care about the road up yonder north. I hope they do fine with what they got. Yet somehow I get the feeling that the powerful politician didn’t really care about the roads in Louisiana – for he couldn’t crow about that to his constituents so that he wound up 36 years on the public payroll doing nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

My problem is not so much that Louisiana’s gas tax is higher or lower than Minnesota’s, or the other way around – nor that our roads must be built differently – us for bridges over mush and they for roads buried in snow. No, my problem is sending money to DC so that people like Shields can get all teary eyed about how we’re “receiving” money from the feds.

It’s kind of like a man taking a six pack out of my fridge, and giving me 5 of them, and telling me he brought me a gift to enjoy.

(Oh yeah, other than normal stuff like lousy roads and difficult funding options plaguing the nation, I’m trying to fathom some mush just received from the Family Research Council — and tomorrow I shall have a great big Valentines Day mushy smooch for Tony Perkins and Peter Spriggs. Lord, Do I Love Those Wackos! They make Shields positively look brilliant!)




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