Opinionated @ CFE

SB239: We could stand to raise the gas tax

Mar
07

One of the proposals before the Legislature this year is to increase the gas tax. That’s one of those sure-fire ways to provoke a strong reaction since we’re all pretty sensitive about the cost of driving. That said, I don’t think it’s really an increase. And at the risk of putting any kind of future¬†electability¬†in complete peril, I don’t have a problem with it at all.

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How Socialist Is Your Transportation?

Jan
20

One of the loudest screams you’ll hear from so-called “conservatives” (whatever that label means anymore) is that mass transit is a wasteful hole of socialism and should be first on the chopping block. The complaint is that a mass transit trip often requires twice as much money as is collected in fares, effectively a 50% subsidy. That would hold some water, except that here in Utah, highways are receiving a scant 33% of their maintenance and construction costs from user fees. Even the much-maligned Amtrak is managing to collect 46% of its costs in fares. Nationally, highways are mustering 51% of their costs from user fees.

So apparently the difference between the “proper role of government” and “wasteful socialist boondoggle” is, at best, around 5% of costs. Just so you know.

What I Expect From a Candidate for State Office

Apr
14

I’ve already covered my requirements of someone running for federal office. In a lot of ways, managing a state can be even more complex than handling federal issues. Many problems tackled by the legislature are often based around narrowly-defined groups of people that cross political and sometimes geographic boundaries. It also requires more discipline since going into massive debt isn’t on the table as an option. Here’s what I expect out of anyone running for state office.

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SB38 Could Bring Some Sanity to HOV Lanes

Jan
21

I was perusing through the list of bills filed so far up at the hill and came across SB38, Restrictions on High Occupancy Vehicle Lane. This adopts a practice used in many other states that turns HOV lanes into normal lanes outside of peak traffic hours defined in the bill as 6AM to 9AM and 4PM to 7PM. This would certainly be a welcome change to help lessen congestion outside of the morning and evening commutes.

Even so, I see a few tweaks worth considering before it hits the final version. The lane restrictions would remain in effect all days of the week, not just on weekdays. Given the low traffic on Saturdays and Sundays, it would make sense to amend the bill so that HOV restrictions are only in effect Monday through Friday. I also question the wisdom of removing the double white lines and restricted lane access. I could see suspending the rules of lane entry and exit during non-peak hours, but during peak hours you have crazy drivers darting in and out to make a quick pass, even if they are ineligible to use the lane at that time. That’s why they were put there in the first place.

I’ve already e-mailed Sen. Karen Morgan to provide this feedback. Even without modification, I think this is a good common-sense bill that should be passed.

Fixing the 2010 Budget

Dec
10

Utah finds itself in yet another deep budget hole, this time to the tune of nearly $1B. This, of course, sets of the debate of if the Legislature should cut spending, raise taxes, or a bit of both. Sen. Steve Urquhart, who I have tremendous respect for, has called for his colleagues to oppose any new tax increases, focusing instead on finding places to make cuts. His rationale is that the rate of growth in state government expenditures has outpaced population plus inflation. While this sounds like a sound argument, it doesn’t mesh with some stark realities.

The demand for state services is not a function of just population and nowhere is this more obvious than in our transportation budgets. As we continue to live in the burbs and commute to work, vehicle miles driven has actually grown as much as twice as fast as population. The cost of construction materials has also risen dramatically higher than inflation as China and India consume more of the world’s steel and concrete supply. Education has also taken a hit as more ESL students enter our school systems, students that have a significantly higher cost to educate. (Large immigrant populations account for a significant part of New York’s high education spending and drag their results down.) A rigid formula leaves little room to address these kinds of variances.

We should also consider that despite all of the posturing, Utah’s state budget has been fairly stable as a percentage of state GDP. During the last two decades, it has fluctuated from a low of 15.5% to a high of 17.2%. That is an amazing amount of restraint given the large surpluses that we had just a few years ago. Whether this is because of or despite the hand-wringing about state government spending is anyone’s guess, but the caricature of free-spending double-talkers seems better suited to Congresscritters than it does our state government.

While I can certainly appreciate the sentiment against raising taxes unnecessarily, you can’t just sweep that option off of the table wholesale. I hope our state representatives and senators will bear this in mind as they start making tough decisions next month.

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