Conservatives mobilize against gas tax hike

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A group of 50 conservative organizations in Washington is mobilizing opposition to an increase in the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax to pay for new transportation projects in the U.S. 

Talk of hiking the gas tax for the first time in more than 20 years has spiked in Washington as prices at the pump have fallen to their lowest levels in years. 

The conservative groups, which include high-profile organizations like Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the Club For Growth, said Wednesday that drivers should be allowed to pocket the savings when they fill up their tanks.

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“Falling gas prices are the first significant relief many Americans have experienced in years,” AFP Vice President of Government Affairs Brent Gardner said in a statement. “Congress should let them take advantage of it rather than treating it as just another opportunity to reach into people's pockets and take more away in taxes. Lower-income Americans deserve a break from trying times, not to be slapped with another tax that disproportionately effects them."

Transportation advocates have argued that raising the gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, would be the easiest way to close a transportation funding shortfall that has reached an estimated $16 billion per year

"While no one wants to pay more, we urge you to support an increase to the federal fuels user fee, provided the funds are used to ease congestion and improve safety, because it is the most cost efficient and straightforward way to provide a steady revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund,” the Chamber of Commerce, AAA and the American Trucking Association said in a letter of their own to lawmakers earlier this week. 

The AFP signed a letter to lawmakers with 49 other conservative groups on Wednesday that argued the opposite. 

“As with so many other issues in Washington, transportation infrastructure has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” the groups wrote. 

“Rather than asking Americans for even more of their hard-earned paycheck to fund reckless Washington spending, Congress should seek an alternate solution that properly prioritizes federal transportation infrastructure needs, reduces costly and time consuming bureaucratic hurdles, and further empowers state and local governments in conjunction with the private sector,” the letter continued. “In doing so, Congress can create a system that is efficient and responsive, and ensures that the United States has the best and safest transportation network in the world.” 

The letter was signed by groups such as Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). 

The gas tax, which predates the development of the Interstate Highway System, has been the traditional source for transportation projects since its inception in the 1930s.

The tax at the pump brings in about $34 billion per year. The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on road and transit projects, and transportation advocates have maintained that the larger figure is only enough to maintain the current state of U.S. infrastructure. 

The anti-increase letter said there were better ways to solve the infrastructure funding problem than asking drivers to pay more at the pump. 

“Not only is increasing the gas tax an ineffective way to address the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs, it would further increase the burden of government on families and business — and would disproportionately hurt lower income Americans already hurt by trying times in our economy,” the groups said.  

“A higher gas tax means higher prices not just on gas, but on goods and services throughout the economy,” the letter continued. “These increased costs would inevitably be passed down to consumers, resulting in a regressive tax hike on middle- and lower-income Americans.” 

The current transportation funding bill, which spends about $11 billion and authorizes the collection of the gas tax at its current rate, is scheduled to expire in May.