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'Funding mechanism' already in place : Editorials : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
'Funding mechanism' already in place

As we reported last week one of two Congressmen representing Kendall County in the U.S. House, Rep. Randy Hultgren of Winfield Township, was the only lawmaker from Illinois to cast a "no" vote on a stop-gap funding bill passed by the House two weeks ago to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent until next May.

After casting his negative ballot, Hultgren issued a statement in which he said he appreciated the efforts of his colleagues in the Republican-controlled House, but noted the stop-gap bill "doesn't adequately address the long-term funding issues that concern my constituents in the 14th District."

Hultgren added, "We must pave a new way forward with a plan that creates a self-sustaining funding mechanism" for our nation's highways.

Given the billions of dollars now needed annually to maintain and improve the nation's highways and bridges, we look forward to learning which "self-sustaining funding mechanisms" Hultgren will propose or will support when Congress takes up the funding issue again next year.

We continue to believe the federal gas tax, first established in 1932, is the best and fairest funding mechanism.

Over the past 80 years both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have supported occasional increases in the tax as a necessary way to pay for better and safer highways and bridges. Originally set at one cent per gallon in 1932 under President Herbert Hoover, the tax was increased to four cents under President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. President Ronald Reagan believed in cutting taxes, but not the federal gas tax. In 1983 Reagan signed legislation that increased the tax from four to nine cents and President George H.W. Bush signed legislation that hiked the rate to 14 cents in 1990. The current rate of 18.4 cents was established when President Bill Clinton signed legislation in 1993.

Predictably, the 1993 tax has not kept up with inflation. Like most everything else, highway and bridge projects cost more now than they did 21 years ago. Meanwhile, the demand for federal highway funds from the nation's 50 states has only increased as highways and bridges have continued to age.

We agree with Hultgren that his constituents in the 14th District have concerns about long-term funding issues involving the Highway Trust Fund. However, we would remind the Congressman those same constituents and their parents and grandparents have benefited significantly from what they and others have paid into the Highway Trust Fund since 1932. In the Oswego-Montgomery area alone over the past two decades federal gas tax revenues have been used by the State of Illinois to widen and improve U.S. Route 34 from Aurora to Oswego, and are currently being used to widen U.S. Route 30 from Route 34 west to Ill. Route 31 in Montgomery, and to widen Ill. Route 71 from Route 34 to Orchard/Minkler Road in Oswego. Kendall County used federal highway dollars to help pay for the extension of Orchard Road into the county in the early 1990s and the construction of the Orchard Road bridge in 2000-01.

Each of the local federally-funded highway projects have helped not only improve traffic flow and safety, but have also had the added benefit of spurring local economic growth. We're certain that there would be far fewer stores and restaurants along Route 34 in Oswego today if the highway was still only two lanes. The widening of the highway to five lanes in 2001-02 helped turn the village into a regional destination for shoppers and diners and provided the village with a significant source of sales tax revenues.

We believe if Hultgren and his colleagues in Congress can muster some political courage and approve a modest increase in the federal gas tax, they will find the highway trust fund will be-as it was for decades-self-sustaining.

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