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Monday, May 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

U.S. needs bridge to better infrastructure

In a weekend interview with CBS News’ John Dickerson, President Donald Trump said, “We’re going to do infrastructure very quickly. We’ve got the plan largely completed, and we’ll be filing over the next two or three weeks, maybe sooner.”

The president said he’s open to a gasoline and diesel fuel tax to help pay for spending on transportation upgrades. He said the idea was presented to him by the trucking industry. In the past, the industry has also lobbied for a gas tax increase in Idaho.

If that sounds counterintuitive, it shouldn’t. The trucking industry is hurt more by inadequate roads, bridges and tunnels than it would be with a bump in the gas tax. Poor roads increase travel times, accidents and maintenance.

“The cost of doing nothing is more expensive than a higher fuel tax,” Chris Spear, president of the American Trucking Associations, said in an Associated Press article.

The devil, of course, is in the details, and sometimes with the Trump administration there are no details. And that’s a concern.

But we can get on board with a sincere attempt to replenish the U.S. Highway Trust Fund and rescue commerce and everyday drivers from shabby roads.

It’s long overdue.

The federal gas tax was last raised in 1993, and the 4.3-cent increase per gallon caused a political uproar. The current tax is 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents on diesel fuel. Neither is adjusted for inflation. On top of that, automobiles have gotten better fuel mileage over the past 24 years.

This combination of factors has eroded the value of the fuel tax, so it’s no wonder the trust fund is running on fumes.

According to a 2014 American Automobile Association survey, 68 percent of Americans support more spending for better roads, bridges and mass transit. And 52 percent of respondents say they’re willing to pay more at the pump for it.

Trump has talked a lot about infrastructure spending, either as a candidate or as president, but his initial budget called for deep spending cuts. It would eliminate TIGER grants, which have helped finance the North Spokane Corridor and many projects around the country. It would imperil the Small Starts grant, which the Spokane Transit Authority is counting on to fund most of the Central City Line as part of an upgrade to the regional transit system.

Funding for those projects, and many more, found temporary shelter when Congress reached a bipartisan agreement on spending through the rest of the fiscal year (Sept. 30).

But then what? How will up to $1 trillion in infrastructure spending be financed? What happens to current projects? And, finally, is Trump really serious about a government shutdown this fall, as he suggested in a tweet on Wednesday? That’s a poor way to build a bridge to infrastructure funding.

Our hope is that the tweet, like many others, was merely a distraction and that the president will once again pay attention to transportation.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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