The News & Observer published a piece this week about where McCrory is going to find the funding for North Carolina’s transportation needs over the long term, in coming decades.  There’s a long list of possible new taxes and fees.  What’s conspicuous by its absence is almost any mention of saving money elsewhere, cutting spending in other parts of the budget, or reducing spending on transportation.

The piece lists options.

  • Borrowed money
  • Gas taxes
  • DMV title and registration fees
  • Highway use tax on car sales
  • Fund transfers
  • Mileage fees
  • Heavy truck fees
  • Tolls
  • Advertising, sponsorship and cost-recoupment fees

Only two of these seem like good ideas to me.  Fund transfers make sense.  For years, North Carolina’s legislature has been transferring hundreds of millions of dollars from the Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund to make up for gaps in funding there.  Stopping that flow and keeping the money with transportation would be an obvious place to start in addressing a shortfall in transportation funding.

Advertising, sponsorship and cost-recoupment fees may also make sense.  If businesses really are receiving huge amounts of services that are being heavily subsidized by taxpayers, then recouping some of this cost is fair.

But the rest of these are just additional taxes on already hard-pressed taxpayers.  North Carolina needs good infrastructure, and that takes money.  But this piece reveals a problem in how we think about government spending.  It is wrong to think that government can just continue to spend and spend, raising taxes and fees or borrowing to cover the costs in perpetuity.  That’s not how personal finances work, and it shouldn’t be the way that government thinks about its finances either.

If we’re facing a large deficit, then we need to take a serious look at priorities.  If we’re short of transportation funds, then what other things can we cut to free up some money?

In the coming weeks, the governor will published his proposed budget.  We at the Locke Foundation will respond.  But, spoiler alert! we’re going to call for reductions in spending.  It’s not wild slashing for its own sake, but it is important to keep in mind that every dollar the government spends comes from taxpayers.  It’s money that you and I earned and were then forced to hand over to the government.  In return, we get valuable services and infrastructure.  But we also get waste.  Rather than taking more and more, the governor and legislature needs to think through how they can reallocate and better spend what they already have.

That goes for transportation, too.