Sen. Carper moves to hike gas tax

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Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) introduced legislation on Wednesday that would nearly double the amount paid by drivers to fund U.S. infrastructure improvements. 

The increase is included in an amendment to a transportation funding stopgap bill that is being considered by the Senate this week. 

Carper’s proposal would increase the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents per gallon, by 4 cents each year until it reaches 30 cents per gallon. 

The Delaware lawmaker said it was important to debate the potential gas tax increase while lawmakers are considering a temporary measure to extend transportation funding beyond the midterm elections this week. 

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“Multiple bailouts of the Highway Trust Fund have added more than $54 billion to our nation’s debt since 2009,” Carper said in a statement.

“That’s why in 2010, former Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and I called for a gradual increase in federal gas and diesel taxes – which have not been adjusted since 1993 – as part of any comprehensive deficit reduction plan,” he continued. “Today, I still believe that re-establishing the purchasing power of the fuel tax is the best policy for funding our federal transportation program.” 

Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to pay for a transportation funding bill to replace the current infrastructure appropriations bill that is scheduled to expire at the end of September. 

Complicating the deadline facing lawmakers further, the Department of Transportation has said that it will run out of money for its Highway Trust Fund in August if Congress does not act. 

The gas tax has long been the traditional source for paying for federal transportation projects. Infrastructure expenses have outpaced receipts from the tax by about $16 billion annually in recent years as cars have become more fuel efficient. 

The gas tax currently brings in about $34 billion. By contrast, the expiring transportation bill includes approximately $50 billion per year in road and transit spending, which is the level that infrastructure advocates are trying now to maintain. 

Carper said Wednesday that increasing the gas tax is the only way to pay for the long-term transportation bill that is being sought by infrastructure advocates. 

“Indexing these taxes to inflation is a common sense way to ensure the value of these transportation user fees does not continue to erode,” he said. “More importantly, it will allow Congress to move forward with the bipartisan long-term six-year transportation bill that was passed unanimously out of the Environment and Public Works Committee in May.” 

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to mark up its temporary transportation funding bill on Thursday. 

The measure includes approximately $9 billion to carry transportation funding from the beginning of October until the end of the year. 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said this week the stopgap bill was the best lawmakers could do in the tight window they are facing before projected Highway Trust Fund bankruptcy. 

“Strong transportation and infrastructure are critical to a growing and healthy American economy. I hope to see the committee take decisive bipartisan action and send a clear message that stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund is a priority now,” Wyden said in a statement when his plan was released. 

“Failure to act now could lead to a transportation shutdown, leaving our roads in disrepair and putting thousands of hard-working Americans out of their jobs," he added.

Transportation advocates have said there is “no excuse” for lawmakers to not approve a long term infrastructure funding bill, even if they have to raise the gas tax to pay for it. 

“While there appears to be movement on ensuring that the Highway Trust fund does not go bankrupt by the end of this summer, Congress has no valid excuses to not act on a long-term plan,” Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement on Wednesday.  

“A fourth of America’s bridges are deficient or obsolete,” O’Sullivan continued. “Poor road surfaces, such as potholes, are now a contributing factor to a third of traffic fatalities, needlessly costing approximately 10,000 lives every year.”