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Our view: Maybe now is the time to raise gas tax

Herald editorial board

It has been 24 years since the federal government increased the tax on gasoline.

Since 1993, the motor vehicle gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon. That's good when we stop at the local C-store to fill up on gas, but it hasn't necessarily been good to American roads, bridges and infrastructure.

Maybe it's time for it to increase, if only a few pennies.

The motor vehicle gas tax is one of the main funders of our nation's infrastructure system. As roads and bridges continue to crumble throughout America, that 18.4 cents per gallon just doesn't quite go as far as it used to, thanks to inflation and the sheer volume of projects that arise every year.

Consider a study done by the North Dakota State University's Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute. Sunday, the Herald reported the department has concluded that infrastructure needs for roads and bridges throughout North Dakota should equal $8.8 billion over the next 20 years. The prediction doesn't account for inflation increases over that time, so it's probably going to be more.

Meanwhile, townships, counties, cities and the state just don't have that kind of money to put toward such a massive rehabilitation program. As the Herald noted Sunday, the study showed that Walsh County alone needs $30 million in infrastructure investments in the next biennium, but that county's overall Highway Department budget in total is only $3.8 million. Good luck making that kind of investment.

Why the problem?

Because needs are exceeding revenues, according to Steve Salwei, the North Dakota DOT's director of transportation programs. And the drop in state revenue attributed to the decrease in oil costs isn't helping.

But wait — the price of oil has fallen. That means the price of gasoline has stabilized, too.

So maybe now is precisely the time to raise the motor vehicle fuel tax. Traill County Commissioner Kendall Nesvig told the Herald last week that a boost of a nickel per gallon would generate about $9 billion nationwide.

Motorists are the only ones who would pay it, and that's about right, since they're the ones who are wearing out roads and bridges.

President Trump earlier this year said he isn't against the idea of raising the tax, but nothing much has happened beyond that. It's a political grenade that nobody wants to handle.

Back in May, Richard LeFrak — an adviser to the president — told CNBC that "if they did adjust (the gas tax) for inflation ... it actually would produce tens of billions of dollars to annual revenue that would reinvested."

We see that reinvestment in the form of safer roads and steady jobs to fix them.

And, without the increase, where will the money come to fix the infrastructure we all know needs drastic help?

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