Rubio proposes cutting 'outdated' gas tax by 80 percent

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Sen. Marco RubioMarco Rubio56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race New York Times endorses Rubio's rival Rubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump MORE (R-Fla.) is calling for the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that pays for most federal transportation projects to be cut by 80 percent. 

The 2016 presidential hopeful said in a post on his campaign website that the gas tax should be cut because it is "outdated" and replaced by a system that allows states to take the lead on financing transportation projects. 

He also vowed to veto any increase in the fuel levy if he is elected president. 

"The federal gas tax feeds Washington’s overspending," Rubio said in a post titled "A Transportation Policy for the 21st Century."  

"Transportation dollars are taken from the states and funneled through a Highway Trust Fund that is pillaged every year by Washington special interests," Rubio's transportation plan continued. "And decades-old federal red tape adds cost and stands in the way of innovative solutions." 

Transportation advocates have resisted the concept of rolling back the gas tax, commonly referred to as “devolution.” The proposal to sharply reduce the gas tax is popular with staunch conservatives, who argue that development of road and transit infrastructure should be left up to states. 

Most devolution proposals typically call for reducing the gas tax to 3.7 cents per gallon and replacing current congressional appropriations with block grants that states would compete for.

Rubio's plan promises he will "reduce the federal gasoline tax rate by 80 percent" and "veto any gas-tax increase." The plan also says he will call on lawmakers to "repeal the Davis-Bacon Act that inflates government costs by billions every year and is a giveaway of taxpayer dollars to labor unions" and "phase out the Mass Transit Account, which loots the Highway Trust Fund."  

Rubio, who has gained momentum in the GOP presidential race after a strong recent debate performance, said turning responsibility for transportation projects over to states would prevent "special interests in Washington from building 'Bridges to Nowhere' and engaging in other wasteful spending."

"Today, the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money, and the political establishments of both parties are propping it up with the same stale policies of the past," Rubio's transportation plan says. "We can’t keep putting more money into this broken system. Marco will take a new approach in building the infrastructure for the next American century." 

Democrats criticized Rubio's proposal to sharply cut gas taxes, saying the GOP presidential hopeful's infrastructure plan would weaken the nation's road and transit systems. 

"Marco Rubio's vision for our transportation future is sadly a wasteland," Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Christina Freundlich said in a statement to The Hill.  

"He wants to end wage protections for American construction workers, while slashing infrastructure investments where we need it most," Freundlich continued. "And by looking to diminish the role the federal government has in our highway system – Rubio would complicate the regulation system for businesses across the country.

"Our country’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair, but Marco Rubio’s plan would put our country’s transportation systems in reverse," she concluded.  

Rubio is the second GOP presidential candidate to endorse the proposal to roll back federal gas taxes, joining Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who called recently for gas tax to be eliminated and replaced with an increase in the use of tolls by states to pay for U.S. roads and bridge repairs.

Lawmakers debated the idea of rolling back the federal gas tax during the House's consideration of a new $325 billion highway funding measure this week. 

The nonbinding "sense of Congress" amendment, which argued that the gas tax should be reduced to allow states to play a bigger role in transportation funding, was defeated in a 118-310 vote on Wednesday evening. 

The highway funding measure that was approved by the House on Thursday reauthorizes the collection of the gas tax at its current rate until 2021. The measure calls for spending $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years, but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years. 

Lawmakers are grappling with a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be $16 billion annually because the gas tax, which hasn't been increased since 1993, only brings in about $34 billion per year at its current level. The federal government traditionally spends about $50 billion on transportation projects, and infrastructure advocates say the amount is barely enough to maintain the nation's roads and transit systems.  

Congress has turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap in recent years, but they have not been able to pass a highway funding bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005.

This story was updated at 5:14 p.m.