Editorial: Funding Plan Starts With Open Dialogue

In the news business, if journalists believe a story has some long-term relevance, we say the story “has legs.” The term is meant to suggest that a topic could carry forward for a while, or that an article could be published at a later date, since the content has lesser risk of growing stale.

While deciding whether to run a front-page story in the Dec. 24 issue about a possible Dec. 21 government shutdown, the Transport Topics editorial team discussed whether the story had legs — in this case, was there a good chance congressional leaders could agree on a spending bill in the few days between our print deadline and the paper’s Dec. 24 issue date, thus making the story old before readers saw it?

We decided to run the story. Given Congress’ history of taking these negotiations down to the wire, we figured the chances were limited that a deal would be reached before readers saw the story. How did we do?

These near-shutdowns of the federal government seem to be happening more frequently. For all of the talk of seeking more bipartisanship, legislators cannot agree on long-term spending priorities for the country. And even when they can agree on an issue that needs attention — such as infrastructure — they cannot agree on the best funding mechanism to get the job done.

At least they are talking about it. Included in the various avenues members of Congress recently have endorsed are vehicle-miles-traveled fees and public-private partnerships, the latter of which often include tolling.

As we have said in the past, we believe it’s high time for the federal taxes on diesel and gasoline to increase. These taxes funnel into the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for construction of and improvements to our nation’s infrastructure. These funding mechanisms have sat unchanged since 1993, an eternity when you consider how much infrastructure maintenance costs have increased during the same time frame. More roads and bridges have been built, and they need maintenance, as do all of the existing structures that were in place even before that last fuel-tax increase.

We’re approaching the new year, a time for making resolutions to changes one’s ways. The incoming Congress has a chance to distinguish itself as one that works toward bipartisan compromise. Members already agree that infrastructure requires attention. Here’s hoping they can come together and bring forward a long-term funding measure that meets the dire needs of the nation’s roadways. If they get it done, that’s a story that will have legs.