Thursday, September 9, 2010

What Nice Rhetoric You Offer, Mr. President

By Sandy Lender, Editor, AsphaltPro

At a Labor Day celebration earlier this week, President Obama unveiled a surprise for road-builders. He has a six-year plan for re-building roads and rail. Apparently, he doesn’t have a plan to PAY for re-building roads and rail, but he’d like to see us fix up 150,000 miles of road and put down 4,000 miles of track.

Not too shabby.

I’d like to suggest to my boss, whom many of you know, that we just hire some extra editorial staff, bump up the pages of AsphaltPro to about 102 per issue, add three safety features per issue, and tack on some producer and contractor profiles per issue so we can showcase more “here’s how your peers can help you succeed” information. Wouldn’t that be cool? Who cares how it gets paid for!? My plan is what’s important. Now aren’t all you readers behind me? You’d help me get the extra staff elected, right?

Not too shabby.

The fact of the matter is 20 percent of the construction industry is out of work right now. Fact check that at any unemployment, ARRA, or construction resource you like. We’ve all got the same figures. During President Obama’s speech Monday, he called it “nearly one in five construction workers.” (For non-industry readers visiting the blog, that number will see its seasonal increase this winter.) The scary thing is this: folks are afraid of how we’re going to pay to keep roads and bridges safe, thus the 80 percent of workers employed right now and the President’s strategy for transportation are endangered.

I think it would help if we could get it through representatives’ minds that user fees and taxes are different beasts, and they need to educate their constituents on that fact. Here’s an example:

I have a friend named Joe who owns a small red car. Joe purchases gas for that car regularly, thus pays a user fee for the Highway Trust Fund. Joe has a friend whom we’ll call Pete who does not own a car. Pete does not have a driver’s license. (Pete isn’t a conspiracy theorist, but he does live “off the grid,” if you catch my drift. In fact, I’m not using his real name.) Pete never pays the user fee for the Highway Trust Fund because Pete does not buy gas to walk around on our sidewalks and streets. When Pete has a doctor appointment in Miami, he borrows Joe’s little red car and has a friend, whom we’ll call Dolores, drive him across the state. At that time, Pete buys gas for the car. He’s using the system and paying the user fee that day.

Do you see? The gasoline user fee is not a tax. Pete doesn’t pay it when he’s not using it. Neither does anyone else who opts to ride a bike or walk around or take free transportation.

Is that how we’ll pay for the President’s new transportation strategy? Or will Congress, already hesitant to talk about “taxes,” shoot it down? You can visit NAPA's site to get more information. Also check out a popular Congressional opinion on tax increases.

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