Yo-yo gas prices show how to pay for highways

A few days ago regular gasoline cost $2.35 a gallon at Iola pumps. (The pump owners like each other and all charge the same.) Today regular costs $2.55 (at every pump. Conspiracy cops, where are you?)
The price went up 20 cents because the price of oil rose from about $70 a barrel to about $80, for which speculators get the credit.
But the point of this piece is not to complain about price-fixing in Iola or take another whack at the manipulators in the futures markets, but to remark once again that a new multi-year transportation program could be financed with a 10-cent increase in the highway fuels tax without making a ripple on the state’s economy.
To test this theory, check out the reaction that you and your family have to the yo-yo gas market. Maybe five years ago a 20-cent increase in a week would have caused you to drive less and complain more. Those days are long gone. Now you fill up and maybe sigh, while telling yourself that next week the price may be still higher, so better buy now.
Does this logic ever convince the powers that be in Topeka? Apparently not. Bring up the subject of a tax hike to pay for a new highway program and solemn-faced senators and representatives summon up their professorial voices and lecture that higher fuel taxes would aggravate the recession, slow recovery and probably push businesses into bankruptcy.
We all know that’s not true. Whatever damage a 10-cent tax increase would do would also be done by a 10-cent in-crease in the market price. An objective economist would tell you that the impact of such a small increase on such a small fraction of the state’s gross level of commodity sales would be almost impossible to measure.
What is possible to measure is the impact of sharply reducing spending on the state’s transportation system. The 10-year comprehensive transportation program initiated in 1999 came to an end this year. Failure to pass a new program with new funding will reduce maintenance and rule out new projects. Kansas bridges and highways will begin to deteriorate as soon as the budget drops, as certainly as 2 + 2 make 4. The effect on the highway construction industry would be devastating.
If today’s legislators refuse to discharge this basic responsibility, to-morrow’s Kansans will look back at them and say that they were paralyzed by timidity and blinded by false ideology.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.