THE GAS STATION – Time to fill up, but notice the price for a gallon of gas keeps rising. Big Oil says this is because summer vacation traveling is coming with its supply and demand. Prices rise in winter due to the need for heating oil. Then there is the surge in driving to the malls for Christmas shopping, the Halloween splurge, etc. etc. Whatever Big Oil is charging us, add on the taxes. Texas has a 20 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and diesel, that’s sixth-lowest in the country. We last raised those taxes almost 27 years ago. The federal government has an 18.4 cent tax on a gallon of gas, 24.4 cents on diesel. The federal tax was last raised in 1993 and is not indexed to inflation, which increased by a total of 73 percent from 1993 until 2018.
But are we being cheated on the federal gas tax? Texas lawmakers in Congress say so – declaring the Lone Star State is getting shortchanged by nearly $1 billion a year. In a March 26 letter, Texas’ entire D.C. delegation — two senators and 36 representatives — called on their Congressional colleagues to fix the formula that doles out the Highway Trust Fund. “Texas only receives 95 cents back for every dollar it sent to Washington in federal fuel taxes,” the lawmakers wrote. If we received our fair share, funds would jump from $3.79 billion to more than $4.73 billion annually. Right now, Texas contributes $220 million more than it receives. The lawmakers claim Texans are the only motorists in the nation who pay more in federal fuel taxes than we receive in highway spending. The imbalance gets worse when we consider that more people are moving to Texas than to any other state, and using our roads. This leads to the spending formula: It is based on a state’s population along with miles of federal highways and daily driving in 2009, using Texas’ 2000 population which was then 20 million. But we now have about 29 million Texans, each trying to get a parking place at the Galleria. The state also added 1,463 lane miles of major interstates from 2009 to 2017, a 6.5 percent increase.
So Texas is a donor state in federal road dollars. Actually, we are a donor state is some categories, and a recipients in others. Take the military. We have donated a whole lot of Texans. In World War II, although the state had 5 percent of the nation’s population, it provided 7 percent of those who served in the armed forces. Texas A&M alone provided more officers for the armed forces than both of the military academies combined. (There were two.) Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox later declared that Texas had contributed a larger percentage of men to the armed forces than any other state. In that war 22,022 Texans were killed or died of wounds. During the Vietnam War, one in every 10 active-duty military personnel was from Texas. They made up 5 percent of the nation’s population and took 15 percent of the casualties. A report in 2007 found that Texas and Harris County produced more Army recruits that year than any other state or county in America. Bexar County ranked fourth. (By 2010 Harris County had slipped to fifth.) More than 225,000 Texan military have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and more than 600 have been killed.
However, we make out when it comes to military spending. The proposed defense budget for fiscal 2019 is $686 billion. Of that, Texas is to get $37.7 billion. We have 32 military bases, including Fort Hood, which is so big it can handle two Army divisions. But it was named for Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood who commanded the Texas Brigade, so we may have to topple it. We love those military dollars. This is traditional. “The whole state of Texas counts on the expenditure of money for Army supplies, and when a Congressman tackles the appropriations bill he joins issue with the whole state from Dan to Beersheba.” — Dr. Samuel Smith, U.S. Army, Camp Charlotte, Texas, July 4, 1879. Think of all those professional athletes on Texas teams who take their millions back to California or Florida to spend their Texas-earned dollars. I suspect we’re a donor state. The NFL couldn’t field a quality team without its Texans. We donate a lot of football players. We must hope that when the Texans receive their paychecks in Green Bay or Tampa, they come back to Texas to spend them. On the other hand, think of all those professional athletes on Texas teams who, off season, take their millions back to California or Florida to spend their Texas-earned dollars there. I suspect we’re a donor state.
But overall, we are changing. After years of sending more money to Washington than we received, we are becoming a take-state. One reason is the aforementioned military spending. Also, we are receiving thousands of poor Central Americans to add to our already vast numbers of poor people. They get federal aid. Speaking of which, in Texas we hear a lot of, “Get Washington off our backs.” Apparently these folks forget the Houston Ship Chanel, NASA and Social Security. As of 2012, in six of the past eight years, Texas received more funds that it gave. This includes the tenure of the Obama administration, which is odd because Obama didn’t owe Texas anything – we went heavily for his opponent in both elections. From 1981 to 2005, Texas on average received 90 cents for every dollar sent to Washington. Last year it was about $1.40 received for every dollar sent. Ironically, those “We hate Washington” red states overwhelmingly receive the most back from Washington. South Carolina, a totally GOP bastion, leads all states, receiving $7.87 for each buck it pays to the feds. Is this hypocrisy?
So for once we are on the dole. It’s about time.
Ashby donates at email@example.com