Child Care vs. Transportation: A False Choice

Last week, the Republican House Caucus shot down the Governor’s amendments to the 2006 Biennium budget. One of the budget items was $6 million for localities to backfill Federal cutbacks for child day care. This day care applies only to pre-kindergarten children whose parents are working poor. Incidentally, the whole program of “welfare to work” — which some decried when it was initiated by Bill Clinton in 1996 — hinges on the idea that the state can provide child care while parents work. If you think it’s important (as I do) that healthy adults should work to support their families, then you have to fund the necessary child care.

The House majority’s ostensible reason for defeating the amendment was that that any extra money should “go to transportation projects.” Whaaaat?

Spending surplus money on transportation is a losing game. Not just because the allocations are too small to be meaningful (VDOT’s annual budget runs into the billions). It’s because there is no way to predict future payments. As a result, you cannot use surpluses to issue bonds. And without bonds being issued — which brings the money forward for present use — you can’t do much of anything.

The point is this: General fund taxes (sales tax, income tax) should be used to fund public goods like education and law enforcement. Transportation is a separate sphere. It should be funded through taxes which match consumer cost with relative usage, i.e. the gasoline tax. The more usage of roads, the more revenue generated. If demand drops, then so does funding.

Funding “transportation” through a few surplus dollars allocated for kids is not good economics. In fact, it’s not even good politics.


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