House Dem wants to nearly double gas tax

House Dem wants to nearly double gas tax
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Rep. Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem debate contenders take aim at Warren The Hill's Morning Report - Trump grapples with Turkey controversy The Hill's Morning Report - Lawmakers return to work as Dem candidates set to debate MORE (D-Wash.) is co-sponsoring a bill to increase the federal gas tax to help pay for transportation projects across the nation.

The measure, which was originally sponsored by Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerPortland hotel chain founded by Trump ambassador says boycott is attack on employees VA under pressure to ease medical marijuana rules Coalition of farmers and ranchers endorses Green New Deal MORE (D-Ore.), would 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. 

Larsen said Wednesday that he is becoming the 35th co-sponsor of the measure because the gas tax, which helps pay for the nation's infrastructure projects, has not been increased since 1993. 

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“When I talked with local transportation leaders, the message I got was that Congress needs to act quickly," he said in a statement about the proposed legislation, which is known as the Update, Promote and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials (UPDATE) Act. 

"Federal funds make up about a quarter of Washington state’s transportation budget each year," Larsen continued. "We cannot have a big league economy with little league infrastructure. Raising the gas tax for the first time in more than 20 years will mean states and cities can count on funds to upgrade aging bridges, make rail crossings safer and expand transit options to reduce traffic congestion." 

The new support for the legislation to increase the gas tax comes as lawmakers are searching for money to pay for an extension of federal infrastructure funding that is currently set to expire on July 31

Congress has been grappling since 2005 with a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year, and they have not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years in that span. 

The 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of transportation funding for decades, but it has not been increased since 1993, and more fuel-efficient cars have sapped its buying power.

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill.

Transportation supporters are pushing for a gas tax increase like the one proposed in the UPDATE Act to pay for a long-term transportation bill, but Republican lawmakers have ruled out a tax hike

Larsen said Wednesday increasing the fuel tax is the most viable way of increasing funding for badly-needed construction projects throughout the nation. 

“Our country’s transportation funding is running on empty," he said. "It’s time to fuel up the economy by making sustainable investments in our roads, bridges, highways and transit systems. Without predictable federal transportation investments, we slam the brakes on creating jobs and growing our economy." 

The UPDATE Act 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. 

The Department of Transportation has said that its Highway Trust Fund will run out of money at the end of this month if Congress does not come to an agreement on an extension in the next couple of weeks.

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the transportation funding gap in recent years, resulting in temporary fixes, such as a two-month patch approved by lawmakers in May that is set to expire on July 31. 

A $275 billion bill, known as the DRIVE Act, has been introduced in the Senate, but lawmakers in the upper chamber have not revealed how they would pay for the measure. The House has been largely silent on the transportation funding deadline, beyond GOP leaders such as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ruling out a gas tax hike. 

If lawmakers cannot come up with a way to pay for the long-term transportation bill by the end of July, they will likely have to settle for another short-term patch.