Editorial: Painful payment planning

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 11:02 PM

Congressional representation should be regretting the voluminous pork projects of years past. But the cynic in us has doubts.

Credit Sens. Chris Murphy and Bob Corker with being among the first to take action upon realizing our country’s infrastructure is getting worn out — or, more accurately in most cases, is already worn out.

Murphy is a Democrat from Connecticut and Corker a Republican from Tennessee. On Wednesday, they introduced a plan to help the situation. We are glad they did.

With any good plan, especially involving the federal government, comes the bottom line of how to pay for it. On that, we’re not happy at all. North Carolina drivers won’t be either.

Federal gasoline and diesel taxes would supply their vehicle to increase the solvency in the highway trust fund. The fund pays for highway and transit programs. Typically, the needle hits empty before Congress goes into the general treasury.

Because of increased federal aid to states, gas taxes and transportation user fees haven’t produced enough revenue for the fund. Less driving per capita and more fuel efficient cars have also played into the equation. New or rebuilt roads and bridges cost more these days, too.

Federal gas and diesel taxes haven’t changed in two decades. We agree that’s overdue. But the senators’ plan calls for a 12-cent hike over the next two years on each, to 30.4 cents on gas and 36.4 cents on diesel.

North Carolina already owns the ninth-highest gas tax rate at 37.75 cents. The closest states, by geography, higher are Indiana (40.81 cents) and Pennsylvania (41.8 cents). Our neighbors are all decidedly lower: Virginia is at 17.28 cents, South Carolina 16.75 cents, Georgia 27.49 cents and Tennessee 21.4 cents.

Murphy and Corker did offer offsets to the tax increase through six expired tax breaks: a research and development tax credit, certain expensing by small businesses, state and local sales tax deductions, increasing employer-provided transit benefits to the same level as parking benefits, deductions for spending by teachers on classroom supplies and increased deduction for land conservation and easement donations.

The senators are correct in addressing a problem long overdue to attention. But we’re hopeful the average Tri-County citizen isn’t given such a painful payment plan at the pumps.