The government's announcements are telling. There has been a boost for roads compared to public transport, but nothing like what the opposition are saying. Given virtually all of the money being spent comes from road users it should hardly be a big deal to have most of it going on roads or services related to roads. Steven Joyce's press release lists a number of projects that are to be progressed, none of which are bad projects, though I note that Transmission Gully has no additional construction funding. The programme itself lists the construction costs of Transmission Gully at over NZ$1.4 billion. A ridiculous sum when upgrading the existing road would be unlikely to cost NZ$1 billion. Steven Joyce himself appears to be warming up the public to Transmission Gully being dumped. Good.
Anyway, so what is worth noting?
The proportion of spending on state highways is 59% up from 51% under Labour. There are big new projects, like committing money to build the Waterview Connection in Auckland, over the property rights of locals, the Te Rapa Bypass north of Hamilton and the Tauranga Eastern motorway (which will be tolled to pay part of the cost). Most of the rest of the spending is on already committed projects and maintenance. Notably, funding for Police enforcement of traffic laws is not increasing beyond inflation. I expect better performance will be sought under THAT contract. No, the Police don't get revenue from traffic fines either.
Money to subsidise public transport is becoming more focused, on projects that actually reduce traffic congestion, optimise service operation (?) and improve fare recovery from passengers (in other words wean services off of subsidies). 57% of public transport money is spent in Auckland, although 48% of public transport usage is there. Think about whether that's working.
From my perspective it is largely business as usual. The good thing is that all taxes from motorists are now spent through this, although it was Labour that introduced that, after National campaigned on it in 2005. It is also good that roads now get more of the money, 86% of spending is on roads or road related activities (planning roads, operating and policing them). However, this bureaucratic system still doesn't provide a link between users and the supply of roads. How do we know the projects are worth building? From a bureaucratic cost/benefit exercise and judgment. The fact remains all the money from road users goes into a pool and it is spent based on how users are perceived to "benefit" from the spending, not whether the money raised in an area or on a road is spent on that road or nearby network. There are huge cross subsidies, users in some areas undoubtedly pay too little, others pay too much, and demand isn't influenced by price - for example, it should be very cheap to use roads at the quietest times, but expensive when they reach capacity.
However, as long as government builds things, most people are happy. For now. Also, to be fair, New Zealand does this bureaucratic funding of roads far far less politically and more objectively than most countries. Bridges don't collapse due to lack of maintenance, and big new roads to nowhere don't get built, anymore. It's just the railway that's the biggest drain of pointless spending now, but most of the money on that comes from taxpayers directly, not motorists.
Darren Hughes says local roads will suffer, as they get no real additional money. The reason given is because councils have to increase rates for government to match more spending on roads. There is a serious issue here, but it would be better fixed by allowing councils to set charges for using their roads and replace rates funding with property access levies on roads where charges don't pay enough for maintenance. Hughes is talking nonsense on public transport though. Surely if public transport patronage rises, higher fare revenue should mean lower subsidies, although Labour's subsidy scheme encourages the opposite. The truth is Labour can criticise little, since National has largely continued Labour's funding allocation process. All it has done is scrap the pointless rail and sea freight spending and directed that and some public transport funding allocations to state highways.
Sue Kedgley of course talks mindless nonsense about the announcement:
- More than half of the NLTP budget ALWAYS went into state highways Sue, but then half the money came from motorists USING state highways.
- Yes every $7 spent on roads (including maintenance) $1 is spent on public transport, forgetting that another $1 is spent by ratepayers and yet another $2 is spent by the fare paying public. You see Sue, with one exception, roads aren't tolled. Oh by the way, for every person riding public transport, another 18 or so are driving or riding in a car.
- "It is especially disturbing to see almost no funding going into rail and sea freight - we have to shift our freight to these modes or else risk serious damage to our economy when the price of oil rises" What do you call subsidising Kiwirail from taxpayers Sue, and do you think Queenstown, which has no rail or sea freight at all, has been seriously damaged as a result?
The economic illiteracy and complete factual evasion of the Greens continues to astound.
ARC Chairman Mike Lee is cheering it on, proving it still has too much money for public transport.
ex. ACT MP and Rodney Mayor Penny Webster is upset that the dog of a project, the Penlink bridge, wont be getting special subsidies. So it either stands on tolls and property levies or wont be built. Good.
So let's not get too excited because reporters just report on press releases. Be grateful your motoring taxes are mostly going on roads, and if you are interested look here for your region to see what you'll be getting or not getting. Don't get excited if you're in Invercargill though, move along, nothing to see here (quite right too).