House blocks vote on 15-cent gas tax hike

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The House has blocked a vote on an amendment to the $325 billion highway bill that is being considered this week that would have increased the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax by 15 cents. 

The amendment, from Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerDemocrats stage sit-in on House floor to push for gun vote Lawmakers push for more marijuana research House votes to condemn carbon tax MORE (D-Ore.), would have nearly doubled the fuel tax that is paid by motorists to help pay for federal transportation projects. The proposal was blocked from proceeding to a vote on the House floor by the Republican-led House Rules Committee on Tuesday night.

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

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

“Congress should have the opportunity to show the courage and vision to do what Ronald Reagan did in 1982 and what seven Republican states have already done this year — raise the gas tax to provide stable and meaningful funding for transportation,” he said in a statement. 

“I’m deeply disappointed that we are considering what alleges to be a six-year authorization without a real conversation about paying for it," Blumenauer continued. "This is a missed opportunity to provide certainty for the hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake and give states and local governments the federal partnership they need and deserve.”

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 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 has struggled to keep pace with rising construction costs.

The gas tax brings in about $34 billion per year at its current rate, but the 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 when he introduced the amendment to hike the gas tax on Friday that lawmakers should be willing 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 then. "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 is expected to vote on dozens of highway bill amendments on Wednesday and Thursday as it seeks to finalize work on a multiyear transportation funding package. More than 280 amendments, including the gas tax hike proposal, were submitted to the House Rules Committee for consideration.