Dem rep moves to increase gas tax by 15 cents

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Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerDEA decision against reclassifying marijuana ignores public opinion Policymakers take important step toward better end-of-life care 19 House Democrats' sites hacked at close of gun sit-in MORE (D-Ore.) is introducing an amendment to nearly double the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax that is traditionally used to pay for federal transportation projects. 

The Oregon Democrat is trying to attach a proposal to increase the gas tax by 15 cents to a $325 billion highway bill that is being considered by the House next week.

The proposed fuel tax increase would result in drivers paying taxes totaling 33.4 cents per gallon on their gas purchases, in addition to state taxes. The suggested gas tax hike matches a proposal that was included in the 2011 Simpson-Bowles budget reform recommendations. 

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Blumenauer said increasing the gas tax is the best way to close a multibillion-dollar transportation funding shortfall that has bedeviled lawmakers for a decade. 

"The bill under consideration calls for a six-year period of spending authority, and hopes to be funded for three years with a combination of budget gimmicks and tax code smoke and mirrors over the next decade," he said in a statement. "But Congress will be back to square one when that money runs out, facing an even bigger hole in the Highway Trust Fund — and once again throwing hundreds of thousands of jobs into uncertainty." 

The highway bill that is under consideration in the House only includes three years' worth of guaranteed funding, which would be paid for mostly with revenue from the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax. The tax has traditionally been used to pay for federal highway bills since the 1930's, but it has not been increased since 1993 and it has struggled to keep pace with rising construction costs.

The gas tax brings in about $34 billion per year at its current rate, but federal government typically spends about $50 billion annually on transportation projects. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap in recent years, but they have been forced to settle for a series of temporary highway funding patches that advocates say make it harder for states to plan large construction projects. 

Transportation advocates have long pushed for a gas tax increase to close the approximately $16 billion annual shortfall in infrastructure funding that has developed as cars have grown more fuel efficient. Lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump, however, leaving the federal government's Highway Trust Fund running on fumes for years. 

Blumenauer said Friday it is time now to ask drivers to pay more to maintain the roads they drive on for the first time in 22 years. 

“My amendment will not only fully fund H.R. 3763, but also provide enough revenue to increase investment above the current, anemic levels of spending," he said. "A long-term transportation reauthorization should be fully funded with revenue that is sustainable, dedicated to transportation, and big enough to give states and local governments the federal partnership they need. Adoption of my amendment would do just that.”

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider amendments to the highway bill on Monday afternoon. The chamber is expected to bring the measure up for a vote of the full House later next week.