GOP senator: Gas tax hike must be offset

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Republican Sen. David Vitter (La.) said Wednesday that he would be open to increasing the federal gas tax to help pay for new transportation projects if the hike is tied to a cut somewhere in the nation’s tax code. 

“The traditional gas tax, increasing that in my opinion, that needs to include an tax offset for middle-class families so everyone except the very wealthy don’t pay more federal taxes,” Vitter said during a Senate hearing about the expiration of the current federal transportation funding bill. 

Vitter said increasing the gas tax is one of three viable options for funding a new transportation bill this year, along with taxing oversees corporate income and expanding U.S. energy production through means like increased drilling. 

{mosads}“I want to encourage us to sort of cut to the chase on the financing side,” he said. “May isn’t that far away right? So I think it’s time to cut to the chase. 

“In my opinion, that real-world, cut-to-the-chase mentality includes three options,” he continued, before ticking off his list of viable funding options. “I think that’s the short list of real-world, practical solutions.” 

The current federal transportation measure, which includes approximately $50 billion per year in infrastructure spending, is scheduled to expire on May 31. The deadline was the topic of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing Wednesday, as lawmakers struggle to come up with a way to pay for a transportation funding extension. 

The Department of Transportation has said its Highway Trust Fund will run out of money without congressional intervention. 

The gas tax has been the traditional source of transportation funding, but it has not been increased since 1993. It has struggled to keep pace with construction costs, as cars have become more fuel efficient. The gas tax only brings around $34 billion annually at its current level, leaving lawmakers with a $16 billion per year infrastructure funding hole to fill. 

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap in recent years, but members of the Senate panel in both parties decried the temporary transportation funding patches on Wednesday. 

“It doesn’t save money to save money on infrastructure,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said. “All it does is move costs to the private sector.” 

Transportation advocates have suggested increasing the gas tax, as prices at the pump have recently fallen to their lowest levels in years, but some conservatives have countered that the gas tax should be eliminated to shift responsibility for infrastructure funding to state and local governments.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) slammed the proposal to eliminate the gas tax, which is known as “devolution,” on Wednesday. 

“Interstate commerce doesn’t stop at state boundaries,” he said. “No state is an island.” 

Inhofe said he used to be a “father of devolution” earlier in his career in Congress, “until we realized it didn’t work.”

“One of the two things that really does work in government is this system,” he said in reference to the Highway Trust Fund and defense funding. “This is coming from a conservative.”  

Democrats on the panel said they wished other Republicans in Congress shared Inhofe’s prospective. 

“The only action I see is from this committee,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said. “Where is everybody else? They all say they want to do something, but they all said that the last time, and we got stuck with this little extension.”

Tags Barbara Boxer David Vitter Gas Tax Highway bill Highway Trust Fund MAP-21 Reauthorization Sheldon Whitehouse

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