Key GOP senator says gas tax hike on the table

The Republican senator in charge of infrastructure policy says his committee might look at raising the federal tax on gasoline to pay for roads.

Sen. Jim InhofeJames InhofeRepeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate GOP senator: EPA 'brainwashing our kids' A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (R-Okla.) defended the gas tax and said that it is one of the methods on the table as the Environment and Public Works Committee figures out how to better fund infrastructure projects.

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Inhofe referred to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who said Sunday that Republicans should leave the door open for a gas tax increase.

“John Thune made the statement that ‘nothing is off the table,’ and I agree with his statement,” Inhofe told reporters Wednesday.

But Inhofe did not go as far as to endorse hiking the gas tax above 18.4 cents per gallon, where it has been since 1993.

He defended it as a user fee, in which the people who benefit from it are the same people who pay it.

“It’s not a tax. It’s a user fee,” he said. “A user fee is different from taxes.”

Inhofe identified writing a long-term highway infrastructure bill as his No. 1 priority as chairman of the environment panel. He wants it to last five or six years, he said.

The last “real good” highway bill was in 2005, when he was the committee’s chairman, he added. Congress passed another highway authorization in 2012.

Inhofe said he is working closely with Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to come up with a funding mechanism.

He is considering using taxes from repatriated money for funding, along with transfers from the general fund.

The Highway Trust Fund, which relies almost entirely on the gas tax and the 24.4-cent tax on diesel fuel, has received multiple transfers from the general fund and is due to go bankrupt in May.

But if Inhofe does decide to push a gas tax increase, it’s likely to be an uphill battle, he admitted.

“If we were to go today to them and say we want to have a user tax increase and we’ll get all of our funding out of that, they’d say no,” he said of his Republican colleagues. “But we’ll wait and see what we can put together.”

Shuster and conservative advocates have declared their opposition to raising the tax.