Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerOverdue progress on costs of trade to workers, firms, farmers and communities Framing our future beyond the climate crisis Reforming marijuana laws before the holidays: A three-pronged approach MORE (D-Ore.) is pushing to nearly double the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax that is traditionally used to pay for federal transportation projects.
Blumenauer is reintroducing legislation he offered last year to increase the gas tax by 15 cents over the next three years, matching a proposal that was included in the 2011 Simpson-Bowles budget reform proposal.
The legislation comes as lawmakers are searching for money to pay for a new infrastructure funding bill this year. The current surface transportation measure is scheduled to expire in May, meaning the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund will go bankrupt this spring if Congress does not act to replenish it.
Blumenauer’s legislation would result in drivers paying 33.4 cents per gallon on gas purchases, in addition to state fuel taxes, to help pay for infrastructure improvements.
Blumenauer said Wednesday the hike would bring the federal gas tax to the level it would have reached had it been indexed to inflation when it was last increased in the 1990s.
“Congress hasn’t dealt seriously with the funding issue for over 20 years and it’s time to act," he said on his website about the proposal, which is known as the Update, Promote and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials (UPDATE) Act.
"The gas tax used to be an efficient road user fee, but with inflation and increased fuel efficiency, especially for some types of vehicles, there is no longer a good relationship between what road users pay and how much they benefit," Blumenauer continued. "The average motorist is paying about half as much per mile as they did in 1993. There’s a broad and persuasive coalition that stands ready to support Congress, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National AFL-CIO, the construction and trucking industry, cyclists, professional groups, numerous associations of small and medium businesses, local governments, and transit agencies. We just need to give them something to support.”
Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase to boost U.S. infrastructure funding as prices at the pump have fallen to their lowest levels in years.
The money would be used to close an approximately $20 billion shortfall in infrastructure funding that has developed as construction costs have risen and cars have become more fuel efficient.
U.S. residents were also driving less frequently and companies shipping fewer goods during the economic downtown that began in 2008, which exacerbated the problems with the gas tax being the primary source for federal transportation funding.
Transportation advocates in Washington said Blumenauer’s proposal to double the gas tax now was the easiest way to close the funding gap, though lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump for more than two decades.
“Congressman Blumenauer’s proposal to adjust the gas tax to pay for desperately needed investment to make our roads and bridges safe is a bargain American motorists will accept if Congress and the President lead on the issue,” Laborers’ International Union of North America President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement.
“While roads and bridges crumble – contributing to an estimated 10,000 deaths a year, according to research on poor road conditions – the main way our country pays for surface transportation has been frozen since 1993,” O’Sullivan continued. “Since then, the gas tax has lost 40 percent of its value. Congress has many viable options to choose from, but one thing’s certain: It’s time to end the ideological logjam over taxes.”
Conservative groups in Washington have mobilized in opposition to the idea of raising the gas tax, arguing that drivers should be able to keep any savings at the pump in their pockets.
“Falling gas prices are the first significant relief many Americans have experienced in years,” Americans for Prosperity Vice President of Government Affairs Brent Gardner said in a statement last week.
“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,” Gardner continued. “Lower-income Americans deserve a break from trying times, not to be slapped with another tax that disproportionately affects them."
O’Sullivan invoked former Republican Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan’s support of gas tax increases to rebut conservative criticism.
“For a little courage, there’s a proud tradition to lean on when it comes to adjusting the gas tax. President Roosevelt did it,” he said. “As did Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. It’s time to be grown-ups and acknowledge to the American people that we get what we pay for.”
Republicans leaders like Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have signaled that they are opposed to asking drivers to pay more at the pump to finance transportation projects, although some GOP senators have said they would be open to discussing an increase in a broader discussion about taxes and infrastructure spending.
President Obama meanwhile has suggested using revenue from taxing corporate profits that are stored overseas to pay for a $478 billion transportation bill through a process that is known in Washington as “repatriation.”
The White House said publicly Obama is opposed to increasing the gas tax, but transportation advocates believe he privately supports the proposal.
Blumenauer’s previous version of the legislation to increase the gas tax was co-sponsored former Republican Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.). Petri retired at the end of 2014 and was replaced by Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.).
Grothman has supported previous proposals to increase state gas taxes in Wisconsin, but he has not yet weighed in on hiking the federal fuel levy.