Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Bump in The Road

There was a commentary in the Journal today, May 27,2009 by Charles Chieppo and Joseph Giglio, "In Mass., user fees best way to pay for roads." In it, the authors advocate that people who use roads the most should pay the most for them and they recommend that we use electronic technology to charge people accordingly.

The authors write, "When it comes to roads, most agree that how much you pay should be commensurate with the benefits you derive."

I'm no professor or professional public policy writer but I do have some serious questions about their assumptions and suggestions.

For example, if the Johnson family drives every Sunday from Boston to Cranston to visit their elderly grandmother Mabel, exactly who benefits the most from the use of the roads, grandma Mabel or the Johnsons?

When the trucker delivers his load of fresh produce to the market is he the beneficiary of good roads or is it the market owner, or is it we the consumers, who benefit the most? It's pretty clear to me that good roads benefit everyone, just as do efficient police protection and fire protection and public education.

This is a poorly thought out idea, which is in fact, just another way to provide more revenue for cash strapped states. I agree that the revenue problem is serious and needs to be solved but let's not delude ourselves by pretending that this suggestion is in some way a fairness issue. It isn't.

There are those who see government as a necessary evil and others who see government as the answer to our problems. It is neither and it is both. Our task is to define, as carefully and precisely as possible, what role government should play in our lives.

Maintenance of public roadways and infrastructure is one of those roles and should be paid for with public funds. Our challenge is to guarantee that government spends our money wisely and with greater care and respect for the taxpayer.