Dem governor pumps brakes on gas tax hike

Dem governor pumps brakes on gas tax hike
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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) is pulling the plug on a proposal to increase gas taxes in her state to help pay for transportation projects, The Associated Press reports

The proposal called for increasing the state’s current 31.07-cent-per-gallon gas tax by 4 cents per gallon, ran into opposition in the Oregon state Legislature because it was coupled with a controversial effort to repeal a carbon emission reduction that was implemented in Oregon earlier this year, according to the report. 

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Republicans in the Oregon Legislature sought to tie repealing the carbon reduction mandate to their support for increasing gas taxes in the state, which Brown said was a nonstarter for her. 

"Given the complexity of the issues and the remaining time available, there simply isn't a path forward through both chambers for a proposal that accomplishes both this session," Brown said in a statement. 

"As yesterday's hearing demonstrated, both transportation and greenhouse gas emissions reductions are important and complicated policy questions that deserve adequate and focused attention," she said. "We worked hard to find a way to address them as a package, but no solution emerged that accomplished that to the satisfaction of all parties. They should be decoupled and considered separately, thus avoiding the ‘my way, or no highway' situation in which we now find ourselves." 

Oregon was the latest in a series of states to try to increase their local gas tax in recent years as federal transportation funding has dried up.

The additional money transportation backers were seeking would have been collected on top of an 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax that is charged to all drivers in the U.S. to fill the federal government’s transportation funding coffers. 

The American Petroleum Institute says the gas tax increase would have brought the total amount of money that drivers in Oregon were charged at the pump to nearly 55 cents per gallon. 

As it stands now, Oregon drivers are paying almost 50 cents per gallon extra at the pump, according to the group. 

Lawmakers in Washington face a July 31 deadline to pass federal transportation funding before it expires, and they are struggling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of the measure. 

Prior to Brown's announcement, transportation advocates in Washington have pointed to the willingness of states like Oregon to raise their own gas tax as evidence that a national hike would be politically palatable this year. 

Conservative groups in Washington have made clear they would consider an increase in the federal fuel levy a tax hike, however.

The federal gas tax has been the main source of transportation funding for decades, but it has not been increased since 1993, sapping its buying power.

While the tax hike has backing from business associations and unions, opposition from conservative groups, such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, led GOP leaders in the House to call it a nonstarter.

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax will only bring in $34 billion annually without an increase.  

The Department of Transportation has said the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in late July or early August if Congress does not come to an agreement on an extension in the next couple of weeks.

Oregon has separately moved to test a system where drivers pay gas taxes based on the number of miles they travel instead of by the gallon. 

The plan, known in transportation circles as the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, has faced opposition over privacy concerns in Washington when it has been floated as alternative to the increasing the national gas tax.