Dem: ‘Time to face up’ to gas tax hike

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) defended his proposal to nearly double the tax that is paid to the federal government by drivers when they buy gas, saying it was “time to face up” to a transportation funding deficit that has been allowed to grow for 20 years.

Appearing on Fox News’s “Your World With Neil Cavuto,” Blumenauer said the gas tax has been stagnant since 1993, during which time the cost of transportation projects kept rising due to inflation. 

“Well, first of all, we haven't raised the gas tax in 20 years,” Blumenauer said. “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. … For all the talk of a budget deficit, we're facing an infrastructure deficit.” 

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Blumenauer introduced a bill on Wednesday to increase the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 33.4 cents per gallon, as well as study a controversial proposal to tax drivers based on how many miles they drive.

Blumenauer said lawmakers had little choice but to take bold action to address transportation funding shortfalls.

“Because we have 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 percent,” he said. “It's time to face up.”

The current 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax brings in approximately $35 billion per year for the federal government to use to pay for road and transit projects. The most recent surface transportation bill that was approved by lawmakers included about $54 billion per year in projects, which transportation advocates say is the bare minimum that is necessary to maintain the current road and transit system.

Blumenauer attributed the shortfall to a variety of factors, including people driving less, cars becoming more fuel efficient, and greater use of highways and bridge because of higher truck delivery levels.

“The point is, since you haven't raised the tax in 20 years, since people are actually driving less than they used to, and because the demands for transportation are increasing for things like trucks, there was a time when the inventory was kept in warehouses,” he said. “Now, because of just-in-time deliveries, the highways are the warehouses.”

Cavuto questioned the necessity of raising the gas tax, asking “What's happened to all the money we have already? 

“What has happened to all the money we have already allocated, not only through the gas tax, Congressman, but states and municipalities that have their own surcharges and charges and the money we have allocated via tolls and bridges?” the Fox host asked.

Blumenauer countered, “We have had a dramatic reduction in the amount of money that has been available over the course of the last 10 years.

“As I say, you haven't raised the gas tax in 20 years,” he said.

The Fox News host was unconvinced, however.

“You're talking about doubling the gas tax and acting like it's no big deal,” Cavuto said.