The new transportation bill in the U.S. House is being attacked by conservatives, liberals, moderates, transit advocates, bicyclists and environmentalists, to name a few.

The House bill would eliminate the longstanding share of the fuel tax allocated for buses and trains. Related funding bills would open sensitive coastal areas to oil drilling. The plan ends set-asides for sidewalks and trails and lets highways gobble up the 20 percent long reserved for transit, yet total transportation spending would continue to add to the federal debt.

There’s not much good to say about the bill except that it contains no pet projects. Another transportation bill coming out of the Senate, while far from perfect, also contains no earmarks and is preferable in almost every way. But it too spends in the red.

The tough challenge Congress faces in transportation is to find enough revenue, directly related to the traveling public, to produce a balanced bill. There was much room for improvement at a time when cars are getting better mileage and fuel taxes are inadequate. The interstate highway system is old and in need of repairs and modernization.

The bill takes a scattershot approach. Among its funding sources are higher taxes on inherited retirement accounts and a pay cut for federal employees to help pay for their pensions.

Those might be worthy ideas, but they complicate a straightforward question: Why shouldn’t users of the transportation network pay their own way?

— Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, Feb. 12


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