By on February 23, 2009

A newly elected member of Congress is leading the effort to ban the imposition of tolls on existing interstate highways. Last week, US Representative Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) introduced HR 1071, the Keeping America’s Freeways Free Act. “Tolls are taxes, plain and simple,” Thompson said in a statement. “The Interstate Highway System—the greatest public works project in history—was built with federal funding to unite our nation. The Interstate Highway System’s profound effect upon the American economy has contributed significantly to development and improved quality of life through increased economic efficiency and productivity. The Keeping Americas Freeways Free Act will preserve this notion and allow for the free flowing of commerce not only in Pennsylvania, but across the nation.”

Thompson succeeded Representative John Peterson (R), one of the staunchest opponents of tolling in Congress. Thompson vowed to keep up the federal pressure against efforts to allow a foreign corporation to toll Interstate 80, a route that cuts across the Keystone State. Parties with a financial stake in the outcome of the I-80 decision spent millions on a lobbying effort that ultimately failed to persuade the public that tolling was in their interests.

During the campaign, however, Thompson demonstrated that his interest extended beyond I-80 to a more fundamental reform of the transportation funding and earmarking process.

“We need to stop diverting money into the general operating budget of the state from the Pennsylvania Road and Bridge Fund,” Thompson said on the campaign trail. “Highway money should be spent on highways. We need to focus federal dollars where they are needed—on the roads and bridges that are most in need of repair—not in those areas where the most powerful Congressmen happen to live, or where they happen to take an interest.”

US Representative Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) joined as an original co-sponsor of the freeway tolling ban. It mirrors legislation introduced in the previous Congress by US Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

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24 Comments on “Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson Revives Effort to Ban Freeway Tolls...”


  • avatar
    ca36gtp

    Hey, so there’s still good Republicans out there somewhere.

    This won’t sit well with the Tax Anything That Moves crowd controlling Congress right now. Bet it goes to committee and is never seen again.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    There goes 99% of all income for the state of Illinois.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    lol… right on about the Illinois money.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I know this is hard for people to accept, but roads cost money. And unless the US is going to grow a spine and develop a sane tax policy, this kind of nickel-and-diming is going to continue—especially because it’s designed to cause little offense to knee-jerk anti-government folk.

    Tolls like those Rep Thompson is concerned about exist precisely because the American public and it’s government is gutless about centralized taxation. Instead of a rational gas tax and a single, monolithic VAT like the rest of the civilized world, you have this patchwork mess of state, country and city taxes and tolls, all with their own bureaucracy and overhead.

    I wouldn’t surprise me to know that, like the American health care system (pay more to get less!), the tax system ensures the maximum amount of wasted dollars.

  • avatar
    tced2

    We already have (primarily fuel) taxes for building and maintaining roads. I have never seen a straightforward accounting of how much money this tax raises. And how much is spent. I suspect that there is some budgeting smoke and mirrors going on here. I know that the airline ticket tax revenues exceed the airport expenditures. The “surplus” is spent in general spending. Before they start on this new source of funds, I want a balance sheet of what comes in and what goes out.

  • avatar
    bluecon

    In the USA they sell around 150 billion gallons of gasoline per year. Each of those gallons is taxed and then there are the taxes on diesel, vehicles, tires, motor oil, etc. It goes on and on. The government should have enough money to gold plate the roads. Somehow no matter how much governments tax, governments never have enough money.

    The real problem is, the government cannot control it’s spending.

  • avatar
    trk2

    Tolls are a stupid way to raise revenue because a good portion of the money is used to cover the overhead needed to collect the tolls. Contrast tolls to revenue generated from fuel taxes which are essentially free to collect. Think of all the money spent on salaries, separate high departments, toll both construction and maintenance. Tolls are never a good idea unless the primary goal is not to raise revenue, but other secondary goals – reducing traffic congestion or creating a government patronage system where minimum skilled workers can be payed higher wages then school teachers.

    Massport I’m looking at you.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Hate to be a cynic here, but I wonder if this has anything to do with keeping price-sensitive travelers on the highway through his district instead of on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the south which, of course, charges tolls.

    News: interstate highways are like everything else – they are NOT FREE. They have to be built and maintained through some source of money. Usually it has been either gas taxes or tolls. Of course, tolls can be politicized too. The portion of I-80 that goes through Indiana has been a toll road for many years and is used heavily in the overwhelmingly democratic counties near Chicago. Indiana’s last three governors (16 years of democrats) had not raised tolls in years, and the toll road was actually losing money. New governor (republican) sold a long term lease to the company that runs the Chicago Skyway, despite massive screaming from the northwest counties. State now has something like $3 billion dollars in the road fund from an up-front payment.
    I am not advocating this for everywhere in the country, but it is at least a legitimate option.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    @ psarhjinian:

    Do you know what percentage of your income goes to taxes? If you do, I believe you would rethink the notion that you are not taxed enough and want to be taxed more in the form of highway tolls.

    I’m talking fed and state income taxes, property tax, sales tax, payroll, business tax, gas tax, auto registration, electricity, natural gas, cable, cell, VOIP and land line taxes etc. etc. etc. Much of this is hard to get to by design.

    Seriously, if you want a sobering view of exactly how much you’re paying, add this up.

    I promise, you will be surprised… and horrified.

  • avatar
    RichardD

    jpcavanaugh : State now has something like $3 billion dollars in the road fund from an up-front payment.

    The state doesn’t “have” this money, it is essentially a loan on the future taxes/tolls that will be collected over the next 75 years by Macquarie Bank, a shady Australian outfit.

    As trk2 pointed out, those tolls/taxes will be at least 1/3rd higher than they should be to account for the idiotic electronic overhead required for tolling, plus Macquarie’s profit, plus the cost of Macquarie’s bribes that helped them land that sweetheart deal in the first place.

    Tolls are the single worst way to raise money possible. It’s all about outsourcing your taxation so you can deny responsibility and disguise the amount collected.

  • avatar
    jimmy2x

    psarhjinian :
    I know this is hard for people to accept, but roads cost money. And unless the US is going to grow a spine and develop a sane tax policy, this kind of nickel-and-diming is going to continue—especially because it’s designed to cause little offense to knee-jerk anti-government folk.

    You mean like England where they have a 17-1/2% VAT, which ultimately adds about 50% to the cost of all goods? Not to mention that they tax anything that moves, and some that don’t (TV tax anyone?)

    Don’t forget local “council” taxes that, from all I read, seem to be raised with impunity.

    “State’s Rights” is about the ONLY thing that acts as any brake to the centralization of the American system. It is not perfect by any means, but I do not see increased central economic planning as any panacea.

  • avatar
    bluecon

    @jkross22

    I believe Psarhjinian lives in Ontario Canada so his taxation rate is approaching 50%. And he wants to pay more. I am thinking of becoming a Democrat politician since it appears they do not need to pay their taxes.

    Norman Thomas—6 time Presidential candidate Socialist Party of America 1948

    “The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of ‘liberalism’ they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Do you know what percentage of your income goes to taxes? If you do, I believe you would rethink the notion that you are not taxed enough and want to be taxed more in the form of highway tolls

    Actually, yes I do know what percent goes to taxes. And no, I don’t want it going to tolls—that was my point. I really don’t want it to go to administration of six levels of bureaucracy.

    If I were American (I’m not), I’d be spitting nails about having to pay school district, city, country, state and federal taxes in various permutations of sales, income, road, fuel, and service/usage, all with their own staff to administer. Tolls are just one aspect of this kind of stupidity.

    Compare this is with what most countries do: Federal income tax, federal sales tax, federal “vice” taxes (fuel, liquor, tabacco). That’s it. No byzantine mess of taxes for each level of government, plus user fees for everything imaginable.

    I don’t think you can appreciate how fundamentally screwed up the American tax regime really is until you’ve had to do software implementations both in and outside of the US. Taxation is going to happen no matter what, but the US, in an attempt to democratize the process (and either out of a fear of central government or selfishness at paying one red cent in social responsibility) has the worst implementation possible. I think that, if Americans really looked at costs and taxation holistically, they’d be horrified at the waste.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    Suburban car commuters are the biggest welfare queens out there – and indignantly defensive about it.

    Gas taxes assessed on drivers on highways don’t even come close to paying enough for those highways. The only reason you’ve been able to labor under the misapprehension that “you paid for it already” is because a hell of a lot of gas taxes assessed on urban drivers driving on city streets (major arterial roadways among them) that never see any gas tax funding made up the difference.

    Oh, and, you know what we call an economic system where everybody pays for something via their taxes, and then we ration access to it by long lines rather than price?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It is not perfect by any means, but I do not see increased central economic planning as any panacea.

    I’m not talking about central planning, but central administration. Do you really think it’s a good idea for every level of government to have tax collectors and analysts?

    Tolls and user fees and such are just another form of taxation, just labelled in such a way to make them more palatable. You’re still being charged for them, and they’re far more open to abuse, especially the lower in the food chain they’re collected. And once you set up a local tax or fee regime, you’ll never pry it away from it’s collectors and administration. Ever. It will only increase.

    I’ve dealt with local government, as well as with federal and provincial ones. Given the tendency to corruption in local politics, versus basic ineptitude at the higher levels, I’ll take central administration (and incompetence) just about any day

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    RichardD
    The state doesn’t “have” this money, it is essentially a loan on the future taxes/tolls that will be collected over the next 75 years by Macquarie Bank, a shady Australian outfit.

    Indiana received a $3.85 billion up front payment in, I think, 2007. The state estimates that its investment income for 2008 at $397 million. If you are telling me that the terms of the deal allow Macquarie to get some of it back in 75 years if revenues don’t hit a certain target, then you have more info than I do. But the state did get a large lump sum payment that is throwing off a lot of income.

    Is this the worst system possible? I don’t think so. I think the worst system possible is to have a toll road and to lose money on it because of governmental ineptitude. Which is what we had before.

  • avatar
    Qwerty

    Since no one wants to fund the roads by actually paying what it takes to build and maintain them, we’ll have to use the standard Republican method of funding everything: Run up the national debt. Hopefully this can be done with the usual villification of taxes.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    @Qwerty:

    Do you know how much you pay in taxes for everything you buy, do or sell? Seems like you’re saying you know how much it costs to maintain roads are convinced taxes at their current level are underfunding this effort.

    Please enlighten me.

  • avatar
    RichardD

    jpcavanaugh :
    If you are telling me that the terms of the deal allow Macquarie to get some of it back in 75 years if revenues don’t hit a certain target, then you have more info than I do. But the state did get a large lump sum payment that is throwing off a lot of income.

    Huh? Where exactly do you think the money is coming from? Macquarie gets to keep every dime it collects between now and 2081, with 8% yearly toll hikes (or more if the CPI is greater). Macquarie pays $3.85b today and shakes down Hoosiers for ten or twenty times that amount over the course of the deal.

    Oh, but the scam gets better. Macquarie only actually paid $374 million of its own money — the rest of its bribe to Daniels (who got to spend and pretend he didn’t raise taxes) was borrowed and leveraged. And it’s about to default.

    That brilliant “investment” of the toll road loan loot? Fannie Mae.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    RichardD:

    Richard, when I referred to the wild screaming about the toll road deal from the counties in northwest Indiana, I did not think that we would be fortunate enough to have a live demonstration. Wow, scams, bribes and Fannie Mae, all in only 4 lines!

    Where exactly do you think the money is coming from? Macquarie gets to keep every dime it collects between now and 2081,

    Macquarie does not get to keep “every dime it collects.” It has to maintain the road and pay for the toll collection aparatus.

    with 8% yearly toll hikes (or more if the CPI is greater). Macquarie pays $3.85b today and shakes down Hoosiers for ten or twenty times that amount over the course of the deal

    Tolls are negotiated to rise so fast only because they had not been raised in YEARS when the road was (mis)managed by the government. And I don’t get your next point: First you say that the private contractor is being so grossly overcompensated for running the road that it should be shot, then you say that it is about to default on its financing obligations to 3rd parties, presumably because it’s not making enough money to pay its debts. Sounds like Indiana made a better deal here than Macquarie.

    Perhaps you misunderstood my larger point. I do not argue that toll roads are the solution for every situation. But look at this road. It is a 150 mile stretch that is practically the only route from Chicago/Milwaukee, etc to Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, New York, etc, so most of its traffic is pass-through, not intra-state. It is far enough north that there is a lot of snow, salt, plowing, potholes and maintenance. It runs parallel and about 10-15 miles south of the Michigan border. It directly serves only the northern half of the 7 counties that border Michigan (out of 92 counties in the state). It has always been a toll road, as are the Chicago Skyway to the west and the Ohio Turnpike to the east. Eliminte the tolls here and raise the fuel tax instead, and out-of-state users will just fill up with cheaper fuel in Ohio and Illinois, and pay nothing at all for the road. We in Indiana then get to pay for ALL of its maintenance and operation, not just some of it like we do now.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Toll roads are wasteful make-work programs. Fuel taxes should be raised to whatever level is needed to pay for road maintenance, and the money from fuel taxes should only be used to improve and maintain the roads.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    psar,

    You are only half right. Simplification would be great, but if it comes at a cost of less local control, it would be terrible. Our federal government is much less tied to the people than yours is. We foolishly stopped adding congressmen a long time ago. Had we not, the House of Representatives would be much larger, and each one of our representatives would be much more connected to his constituents.
    Taking the local and state governments out of the loop now would end up giving us more, not less government. Also, there is nothing to keep the Feds from simply making their own processes even more byzantine than the combined local ones are now. See our income tax code for proof.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    jkross22 :
    February 23rd, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    @ psarhjinian:

    Do you know what percentage of your income goes to taxes? If you do, I believe you would rethink the notion that you are not taxed enough and want to be taxed more in the form of highway tolls.

    I’m talking fed and state income taxes, property tax, sales tax, payroll, business tax, gas tax, auto registration, electricity, natural gas, cable, cell, VOIP and land line taxes etc. etc. etc. Much of this is hard to get to by design.

    Seriously, if you want a sobering view of exactly how much you’re paying, add this up.

    I promise, you will be surprised… and horrified.

    The amount of taxes Americans pay is less than the amount of services we receive in return (due to consistant budget deficits). Less taxes means less roads, less schools, less trillion dollar wars.

    That is to say, stuff costs money. If you think that, say, the condition of roads in this country is bad, imagine how worse they will be with less money spent on them due to less taxes being collected.

    Now, one solution is to do the opposite of what this guy proposes-make every freeway a toll road, with those funds being used to keep said road in good condition. That way, if you don’t drive on said road, your taxes will (in theory) go down to compensate.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Wow, as a fellow Republican, I’d like to support GT Thompson, but he is fundamentally wrong in his definitions.

    Tolls are NOT taxes.

    Tolls are fees collected for certain activities or uses of a facility, and they pay specifically for those activities and uses. Tolls are avoidable if you do not do the activity.

    Taxes are nearly unavoidable. All drivers pay fuel taxes. All citizens pay school taxes, even if they don’t have children in school. However, it is very hard to know where our taxes go.

    For example, the Pennsylvania Turnpike has been funded for over 60 years on tolls alone. Eliminating the tolls will mean all citizens will be taxed to pay for it, with much less accountability. This will raise taxes; roads are not free.

    I am no fan of tolls, but I am less a fan of taxes due to the lack of accountability. I know that if I do not cross a certain bridge or drive on a certain road, I can avoid a toll. Not so with many taxes, expecially income taxes.

    On the other hand, the story is more complex due to the mixture of toll-paid roads and tax-paid roads. Incidentally, I find the toll-paid roads are always in better condition.

    I’m afraid that GT’s proposal will simply raise our taxes and reduce road quality.

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