Business group: you get what you pay for


by Conrad deFiebre | July 17th, 2009 • Add the United States Chamber of Commerce, one of the nation’s leading bastions of rock-ribbed conservatism, to those calling for more investment in roads, bridges and transit through increased user fees — AKA higher fuel taxes.

National Chamber President Tom Donohue made that pitch this week as a matter of what he called “basic common sense” in the chamber’s magazine.

“The challenge is that gas tax revenues — which are not indexed to inflation and have not been increased in 16 years — have declined while the the need for repair, maintenance and expansion is increasing,” he added. “Motorists would get a tremendous return on their investments including reduced congestion, fewer fatal crashes due to poor road conditions and low prices on most products due to smaller shipping costs.”

Donohue was mainly addressing the federal gasoline tax, which has stood at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, losing a third of its buying power along the way. That has caused the federal Highway Trust Fund to face bankruptcy next month, for the second time in a year. President Obama has proposed shoring it up with $20 billion in non-user tax funding, which would be on top of $8 billion injected by Congress and President George W. Bush in 2008.

Businesspeople increasingly understand that user fees must keep up with transportation costs to ensure our state and nation’s safety, mobility and global competitiveness. But politicians from Obama to Gov. Tim Pawlenty fear public retribution from raising user charges burdened with the misnomer of taxes. It’s time for them to start heeding the calls of business leaders who know the real costs of continued neglect of our infrastructure.

As Donohue wrote: “There are no free lunches when it comes to infrastructure investment. You get what you pay for.”

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