Neil Cavuto may have outdone anyone on Fox News yesterday for unfairness and unbalance. First, Cavuto concocted some kind of conspiracy theory about the misuse of federal highway funds, then he attacked his guest, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) for not disproving the baseless accusation. But as Blumenauer tried to tell Cavuto where to find the supposedly desired proof, Cavuto refused to listen.
The discussion was based on Blumenauer's plan to raise the gas tax 15 cents a gallon. Bluemenauer explained, “We haven’t raised the gas tax in 20 years. During that time, the amount that the average motorist pays per mile that they drive, because of increased fuel efficiency and inflation, has been cut in half. …We’re facing an infrastructure deficit, and because we’ve just sort of run the gas tax trust fund down to where it’s approaching zero, if we don’t do something in the next 10 months, we’re going to face an inability to fund any transit funding next year, and the federal highway funding will drop 92%.”
Somehow, that was proof to Cavuto that existing funds had been misspent. Or maybe just a convenient excuse to make that allegation. Cavuto asked, “What’s happened to all the money we’ve already allocated not only through the gas tax, Congressman, but states and municipalities that have their own surtaxes and charges and the money we’ve allocated via tolls and bridges, where is that money going?”
Blumenauer said there has been “a dramatic reduction in the amount of money that’s been available over the course of the last 10 years.”
Cavuto insisted, “But we have more gas revenue coming in, because more people are driving.”
“That’s not the case,” Blumenauer said. And Blumenauer is right.
So then Cavuto came up with his accusation that somehow the money had been misspent. Without providing a scintilla of evidence, any facts or studies, Cavuto asked, “Is there a way to assure this in a lockbox so that it’s intended for just that purpose? Because we do have a lot of other means by which we raise money to help our infrastructure, and our infrastructure still sucks.”
Blumenauer answered, “If you hadn’t raised a fund for 20 years, you could see where you, it would lose revenues.”
Cavuto pressed his theory. He said, “My point is, we have a variety of means but where is the money going? Forty two billion dollars in fees alone last year, presumably for bridges and roads and highway construction. Is that money going somewhere it’s not intended?”
Cavuto’s the news person. Why didn’t he research the question?
Blumenauer explained, “It’s going to where it’s intended under the federal transportation legislation. …There was a time when the inventory was kept in warehouses, now because of just in time delivery, the highways are the warehouses.”
But Cavuto kept demanding that Blumenauer do his job for him. “Help me, educate me, where is toll money going? Where is bridge and tunnel money? Where is that money going?” Cavuto asked accusingly.
Blumenauer answered that to the best of his knowledge, “The toll money under the individual states that have tolls, those are dedicated for the transportation purposes.”
But even though Cavuto had no information otherwise (at least not that he shared with the viewers), he kept insisting that there might be. And then attacked Blumenauer for not proving a negative. “Well you should see the roads and bridges by me, they’re falling apart. …How we can be so sure that there will be a lockbox or a lock or a box period that will do for infrastructure repair what you say it will? … (Y)ou can’t account for the money that’s been allocated already.”
“Absolutely you can,” Blumenauer said. “Look at your communities in terms of the bridge construction, the maintenance. This money you can look at how it’s spent. …The budget is available for every state.”
Cavuto said peevishly, “I’m aware of the budget. Can you tell me where it’s gone? …Me thinks someone has stolen it, someone has taken it.”
Once again, there was no reporting to back up Cavuto’s “thought” that funds had been stolen.
“Wow. I’d be happy to sit down with you Neil and show you state transportation budgets,” Blumenauer told him. He added, “I assume Fox has a big research organization.”
Apparently, that was asking too much. Cavuto sneered, “You have no idea, you have no idea do you? You have no idea.”
In fact, it was Cavuto who had no idea and not only didn’t he care, he was blaming his own ignorance on Blumenauer.
“I think you don’t, you purposely don’t have an idea,” Blumenauer said, with good reason.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of evidence that Blumenauer is correct. As CNBC recently reported, The American Society of Civil Engineers says we need to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020 on infrastructure. It grades our current infrastructure with a D+. CNBC also reports:
Due to inflation, the fund’s purchasing power is only about 62 percent of what it was.
“At this point, you have to buy a tankful of gas for the federal tax to add up to the equivalent of a latte at Starbucks. This is a major imposition on Americans,” said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, an NGO with an infrastructure-promotion arm called America 2050. “But people get it that unless we can increase the gas tax, there won’t be a trust fund or investments in highways and public transport in this country. And if it isn’t the gas tax, then something else has to go up.”
… Resistance to raising the tax, along with lower revenues due to the fact that cars are becoming more fuel efficient and overall driving is decreasing, has left the fund in a state of chronic shortfall that requires emergency transfers from Congress—to the tune of $41 billion since 2008.
But as Media Matters points out, “Cavuto has continually dismissed the need for additional infrastructure spending, even in the face of deadly infrastructure-related disasters.”
Update: The original version of this post said our current infrastructure had received a grade of D from the American Society of Civil Engineers.