Does John McCain still want to give everybody a three-month holiday from paying federal gas taxes? The McCain-Palin website still says he does.
I checked today after Mary Peters, the US transportation secretary, announced that the federal Highway Trust Fund is running on fumes and will run dry even sooner than everybody expected -- maybe before the end of September. This money comes from federal gas taxes.
In the past, this money covered 80 percent of highway and bridge project costs.
Now the feds say North Carolina's reimbursement for road projects will be cut by 30 to 40 percent. That's a hit of at least $300 million in the coming year, unless Congress comes up with money to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.
The Senate has declined, so far, to join the House in bailing out the Highway Trust Fund. The Bush administration opposes increased gas and other transportation taxes. Instead, the administration says we should look to private investors to cover more of our transportation needs, by building things like for-profit toll roads.
What if Congress had agreed with McCain and canceled the gas tax this summer? I asked Calvin Leggett, the state DOT program development manager.
“Had that happened,” Leggett said, “the problem would have just occurred two or three months earlier.”
Federal and state gas tax collections have declined sharply in the past year, because Americans have reduced their driving in every month since November. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, Americans drove 42 billion or 2.8 percent fewer miles than during the previous year, so we bought a lot less gas and paid less in gas taxes.