“When I see the crumbling roads and bridges, or the dilapidated airports or the factories moving overseas to Mexico, or to other countries for that matter, I know these problems can all be fixed, but not by Hillary Clinton — only by me.”
That was one of the pledges Donald Trump made during the 2016 presidential campaign, promising to fix the nation’s infrastructure. In his first 100 days, Trump planned to somehow achieve this with bipartisan support.
As has been the case for most of his agenda, Trump likely did not foresee this level of congressional resistance, not just from the loyal Democratic Party opposition but fellow Republicans as well.
The result is that the country heard little about this infrastructure fix for the entire first year of Trump’s presidency … that is, until this month.
Last week, a memo leaked to Axios’ Jonathan Swan showing “funding principles” for this infrastructure plan. According to that memo, $200 billion in federal funding will be used as an “incentive” to encourage the other $800 billion in financing from state and local governments and private sources.
While that is indeed a $1 trillion plan, it is not quite the federal boondoggle conservatives feared — a blank check given as a handout and steered to nefarious pork-barrel projects all around the fruited plain.
Although this Trump plan is in the preliminary “leaked” stage, there is already a push underway for the state Legislature to raise the gas tax to pay for it, in part.
Over the weekend, Alabama Daily News publisher Todd Stacy laid out why such an increase could be a problem for Alabama. In his column, published in the Montgomery Advertiser, Stacy noted that the state Legislature has been reluctant to raise the gas tax. He offered State Rep. Bill Poole’s (R-Tuscaloosa) failed 2017 effort as evidence.
With no chance of it being taken up in this election-year session and the high number of retirements in both chambers of the state Legislature, the future of a gas tax increase becomes even more problematic.
In the 2019 legislative session, freshman members will be reluctant for one of their votes to be for a tax increase. Stacy’s solution: rely on Trump.
“That means whether they get to it this year or next, Republican legislators in places like Alabama will have the mother of all covers to explain voting to increase the gas tax: President Trump told me to,” he wrote.
Here is the problem: We have overplayed the Trump card (no pun intended). Sure, voters in Alabama went hard for Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary and presidential election, but since then he has gone 0 for 2 in 2017 — with Luther Strange and Roy Moore.
Alabama voters are not as wooed by the Trump cult of personality as we in the media claim they are. Certainly they like him, but they are not going to support a gas tax because Donald J. Trump told them to.
So how can this gas tax work? Start offering specifics. Where is the status quo insufficient? One that comes up in every candidate forum or town hall meeting is a new Interstate 10 Mobile Bay crossing.
Every 50 years or so, the area outgrows the most recently built crossing, and that prompts a discussion about another new and improved one. It started with the first Cochrane Bridge to replace the high-priced ferries. Then came the Bankhead Tunnel, the Wallace Tunnel and finally the new Cochrane-Africatown USA Bridge.
How long will this latest solution last, and does that mean high gasoline taxes in addition to a toll?
A satisfactory response to that will satisfy southwest Alabama voters. That being said, gas tax/infrastructure proponents still have to make the case to the rest the state.
Some of the other projects would likely include Montgomery’s Outer Loop, Birmingham’s Northern Beltline, I-20/59 crossings in Tuscaloosa and improvements to I-565 coming into Huntsville from the west where a $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda facility will be built.
The rural areas of Alabama will present the most opposition to these proposals — places where the dollars are not as readily available as they are in the bigger cities. Nine cents on the gallon is still nine cents on the gallon, be it Fairhope or Chatom.
Former Alabama Gov. “Big” Jim Folsom changed the culture of the state with his farm-to-market road program. Before that, most of inland Alabama was cut off from the world. Obviously, things have changed since then. However, to make a case for a gas tax to those hard-to-reach rural voters, offer the vision for a new version of the farm-to-market road system.
Huntsville and Mobile have been making strides in the realms of economic development. With each of these announcements, other areas in the state have asked, what about us?
The reason Huntsville and Mobile have succeeded is that they are accessible, be it by road, rail or sea. These impoverished areas in west Alabama — one of the things they have in common is they are cut off from the interstate highway system. There might be a four-lane road in a part of the county, but they are an hour away from the interstate and it makes their location cost prohibitive for economic growth.
In places where 9 cents on the gallon would hit the consumers the hardest, the question might be, “What’s wrong with the Mobile Bayway we got? I mean the Bayway we got drives pretty good, don’t it?”
When the time comes to make a case for the gas tax, or any other taxation means to match funding from the federal government, go beyond just saying “Trump is for it” and have a plan to show what people are getting in return.