While many politicians look at balancing the federal budget as a tale of two cities, tax increases and spending cuts, and the failure of the super committee resulting in mandatory cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Defense in 2013, there is a third avenue that can and should be used. The federal government can create engine of revenue external from mainstream taxation.
Though the Constitution limits the federal government’s ability to establish itself as a for-profit entity in its own right, there is some leeway. One thing the federal government already owns outright is the Interstate Highway System. Initiated by Harry Truman and completed by Dwight Eisenhower, Interstate highways were built for the primary purpose of commuting, holiday travel, and delivery of goods to retail venues including supermarkets via truck easier, and the secondary purpose of being turned over to the government for military vehicular transport in the event of a national emergency.
Though many states claim stretches of Interstate highway as turnpikes and toll-ways for the purpose of generating revenue of their own, a true interstate highway prohibits toll collection and sales of products are limited to vending machines at rest areas operated by non-profit organizations. When a state is in full compliance of this standard, it receives federal funds to cover the cost of 80% of the roadway maintenance. Toll highways running concurrent into Interstate highways are only entitled to 50%. Many states are now asking for waivers to place all-electronic toll collection devices (EZ Pass and other brand transformer readers) at state lines. Instead of issuing waivers, why doesn’t the federal government just go into the business?
I am not a big fan of toll collection, but it is a fair way to collect revenue as someone unemployed for example will not be crossing the state line as frequently as a commuter employed in a neighboring state. And with high speed transponders instead of people in collection booths, the environmental and highway safety issues associated with traditional toll collection no longer exist. If the federal government collected $3.00 per vehicle and kept one dollar for itself and one dollar each for the two states on the border, this is a lot of revenue from the high volume of vehicles passing. I am not suggesting a higher fee for more axles as this can adversely affect the price of food and other goods transported by truck—I am suggesting a flat rate of $3.00 for anything on wheels passing the gateway. Part of the revenue can be applied toward paying down the debt and part to repair the nation’s dilapidated infrastructure.