Well, the good news is Maine isn’t alone. On Wednesday, several U.S. senators were tisk-tisking the Obama administration for failing to address the gap in federal highway funding, the Highway Trust Fund, which runs on gasoline tax receipts and needs some $7 billion by August to stay solvent.

By comparison, the $3 billion Maine needs for transportation projects over the next decade is a mere pittance. Yet the root problem is the same: the annual needs of our national transportation grid have outstripped the ability of its funding source, gasoline taxes, to pay for it.

Our lawmakers tried laying some policy hot-top by pitching a short-term nickel increase in the state gasoline tax, to infuse the Highway Fund with some maintenance money. The notion went nowhere, leaving vague hopes a summertime study group can conjure some better, holistic solutions.

It’s the only choice. As the retail price of gas creeps closer to $3, the populist resolve and political will against increased taxes will only toughen. There is no future in pitching tax increases on a commodity whose price promises to become burdensome — regardless of arguments of how good it really is for us.

This road could become even rougher, if the state tries to return some of the 8,000 miles of road it currently maintains to local jurisdictions.

Unless, though, there’s an adequate, beneficial trade-off for the tax increase, a justification that is more than the old, “there’s too much road, and not enough money.” This rationale feeds into accusations of wasteful spending and fiscal restraint — the recipe that doomed the gas tax hike just proposed.


If there’s one thing that angers drivers more than the high price of gasoline, it is its unpredictability. The psychological impact of seeing those giant roadside numbers rise and fall sends consumers, quite literally, on an economic roller-coaster. It is agony and it is ecstasy.

One thing it isn’t is stable. That’s why the notion of an elastic tax, which decreases as the price of gasoline rises, is garnering attention as an option to either flat tax increases or regular indexing. An elastic tax would do little for dissuade consumption, but could stabilize funding and prices.

Would Mainers be willing to accept paying a higher per-gallon gasoline tax, if it created greater stability in gasoline prices? This scenario would probably hurt predictability in highway funding, but this is likely no worse than the state fund’s current state: with the needle almost on E.

In short, new ideas must come to the forefront, both from Washington and in Maine. Federal transportation officials said Thursday that proposals for filling the funding gap are forthcoming. Perhaps those plans could yield ideas for Maine to emulate.

Meanwhile, this state’s problem is not going away and the status quo is untenable. Creativity in funding transportation is desperately needed.

Right now, it’s just a road to nowhere.


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