As an inveterate observer of human nature, my funnybone was tickled by a recent report concerning people's attitudes about improving transportation and reducing congestion. It seems generally folks applaud all kinds of solutions that they think might help mitigate the problems -- but they don't approve of paying for them.
In this study of 300 Washington-DC-area drivers, for example, only 30% expressed support for increasing the tax on gasoline, and even fewer (15% or less) for any other proposed revenue-increasing solution, but nevertheless, they
"were eager to see more money spent. More than three-quarters of them said more should be spent on transit systems, 53 percent wanted more money to go to roadways, and 58 percent backed greater funding for pedestrian and bicycle projects."
This has long been the typical attitude toward government: Services are expected, sometimes even become a "right," but everyone seems to believe they can be had cost-free.
Of course no one wants to pay more if he can avoid it, but the most curious aspect of this "free-government" worldview is that its proponents seldom if ever apply it to the rest of the world. Whether it's cell phones, cars, or restaurants, consumers readily fork over the money for even rather minor improvements. (Is the 1Phone 5 really so much better than the 4 that's only a year older? Are those two added cable channels that you'll never watch really worth $2 or 3 more per month?)
I suppose the difference is that with government, people perceive that they're potentially sharing the cost of improvement with others, so they cling to some hope that someone else will pay more while they pay less. Sometimes they're right, as might be the case in Virginia if the governor's plan to abolish gas tax entirely is passed.
More often, though, good intentions are no substitute for cold hard cash. It's the politicians' job to sort out all the conflicting interests and come up with a plan good enough and fair enough to pass into law. But their fear of voters' irrational expectations seriously cramps their ability to do that.