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Today the Arizona PIRG Education Fund released a new report, Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding, that disproves the common misperception that road-building in Arizona and across the country is paid for by user fees. The report shows that gas taxes cover barely half the costs of building and maintaining roads, a fraction which is likely to fall steadily.
Among the findings of the report:
- Federal gasoline taxes were originally intended for debt relief, not roads.
- Highways, roads and streets have received more than $600 billion in subsidies over the last 63 years in excess of the amount raised through gasoline taxes.
- The amount of money a particular driver pays in gasoline taxes bears little relationship to his or her use of roads funded by gas taxes. Drivers pay gasoline taxes for the miles they drive on local streets and roads, even though those proceeds are typically used to pay for state and federal highways.
- In Arizona, like many other states, state gas taxes are partly offset by subsidies that exempt gasoline from sales taxes.
“Arizona needs to make difficult choices about how to fund our state’s transportation system. The first task is to discard common myths about how roads are paid for,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund.
This year, Congress will again address funding for the nation’s Highway Trust Fund, which has been bailed out four times with $35 billion from general funds since 2008. Federal gas taxes have not increased since 1993 and revenues are expected to remain flat as Americans continue to drive less and use more fuel-efficient cars.
In Arizona, the state’s constitution restricts the spending of gasoline tax revenues to highways. “Highway advocates often wrongly portray highway spending as financially conservative by falsely labeling gas taxes as “user fees” that pay for roads,” said Unrein. “Funding transportation programs based on myths – rather than on what is most needed – is wasteful and unproductive.”
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