The Union Leader has a great editorial in this mornings Sunday News titled "Free Trains." It is great for several reasons the least of which is that it mirrors concerns I have been expressing for years. That no matter who pays to build them, someone has to pay to keep them. That would be New Hampshire Taxpayers. But Democrats are aghast that the NH House would dissolve the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority–the head of a beast seeking to force commuter rail upon us–because hey it doesn’t cost anything.
But it does cost and it could lead to something that costs us even more in the future. A lot more.
December 2009 at NH Insider - I hit it out of the park when someone compared road taxes to rail taxes.
Passenger rail costs are not limited to the root infrastructure itself. That would be rails versus roads. Taxpayers would have to subsidize passenger rail-cars, fuel the cars, maintain the cars, probably pay the workers and their benefits, and support the entire system when it fails to turn a profit, which will be always and probably forever. While roads have some other infrastructure nothing compares to rail.
In contrast people buy their own cars, and pay for their own fuel and maintenance. They may buy the car to get to a job that’s probably not funded by taxpayers either. (Except in Concord) Taxpayers do not need to subsidize any of that where with rail we’re supporting all of it. So there is no possible apples to apples comparison to road and rail taxes.
The state also makes a lot of money on registration fees and fuel taxes for road vehicles, tolls and license plates, and some towns rely so heavily on registration fees that even minor reductions can cause budget issues. Passenger rail offers no comparable net increase in revenues and in all likely hood a net loss. So Passenger rail risks reducing revenues and increasing tax obligations for no significant greater good.
But that’s hardly the most pressing point about the ongoing illusion of free commuter rail…
February 2010. NH Transportation Commissioner George Campbell, as reported by John DiStaso at the time, accidentally releases a report that tells the truth about the real costs to taxpayers for commuter rail and how we might pay for it.
The report lays out recommendations for funding the project by bumping up against the third rail of higher property taxes, more vehicle registration fee increases, and phrases like, “”(the) "concept of this business improvement tax was that if they were going to have a benefit, then we could tax them on that benefit,"” this from Steve Williams a former executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.
Taxes to pay for free commuter rail? Do tell!
[A] business improvement assessment" of $1.02 per $1,000, on top of existing local and statewide property taxes, could be levied on all properties in a mile-wide corridor along the track, a half-mile on each side.
They could also choose “…to add a 16 cents per $1,000 property tax surcharge on all properties in 27 communities in the Nashua-Manchester areas.”
Then there’s “a vehicle registration fee [which] "has actually been a pretty common approach across the country. You basically tax what you want people to avoid, if you will," Williams said He said that with 528,273 vehicles in the 27 communities in the region, a $15.82 charge would be needed to raise $8.3 million.
The Union Leader revisits this and other truths in this morning editorial…
So the authority has the power to raise whatever revenue is necessary, by whatever "other means" necessary, to finance a $300 million passenger rail line that will cost at least $8 million a year to run. And yet the people are told by its supporters that it is purely a "volunteer" effort that will cost "ZERO tax payer dollars."
Not just an ad hoc panel of transportation enthusiasts milking the federal teat to saddle us with a big annual revenue hole? How about that hole?
Back to March of 2010, John DiStaso reported the remarks of Peter Burling the head of the NH Rail Authority , which rightly sends me off the rails in this post, again at NH Insider…
PETER BURLING, head of the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority (NHRTA), was in Manchester this week to promote his dream of building a commuter rail line from Concord to Boston.
He suggested that operating commuter rail would cost taxpayers less than maintaining the highway.
The rail line would cost $5 million to $8 million a year to run, Burling said. (The NHRTA officially estimates a total cost of $10 million a year, with 50 percent covered by fares, but all these numbers are guesses.) “Compare that to the cost of maintaining our highway system,” he said.
That’s nonsense. According to the state Department of Transportation, I-93 costs roughly $10,000 per lane per mile to maintain. At four lanes, I-93 between Concord and the border would cost about $1.6 million a year. After the Manchester to Massachusetts widening, it would be about $2.6 million a year — roughly half of Burling’s lowest estimate for operating the train. Double the I-93 maintenance figure, just to be safe, and we’re still at the low estimate for the state’s portion of operating a train.
And the train would carry only a tiny fraction of the traffic the highway carries.
That makes it enormously more expensive per passenger- mile. Financially, highways make more sense.
So we can wrap it all up with this from my Feb 2010 post…
Any good liberal will tell you this. Never talk about how much something really costs, or who will have to pay for it, until after you have convinced them it will be good for them. You do this by creating an overwhelming desire for fairness, appeal to some moral phantom named equality, or in the case of massive infrastructure projects with storied histories as terminally bankrupt taxpayer propped up boondoggles, convince them of the “Benefit.”
And what is the benefit this time around? Well it is free of course. (Again from this mornings UL)