Lawmakers to weigh gas tax reduction in House vote

Lawmakers to weigh gas tax reduction in House vote
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The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a "sense of Congress" amendment that calls for reducing the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax that is traditionally used to pay for federal transportation projects by about 15 cents and transferring authority for most construction projects to states.

The non-binding amendment, from Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisThe Hill's Morning Report — Arrest of Giuliani associates triggers many questions McCarthy will return money donated by indicted associates of Giuliani Florida law allowing some school teachers to carry guns on campus goes into effect MORE (R-Fla.), seeks to establish that lawmakers think "it is critical for Congress to phase down the federal gas and diesel taxes and empower the states to tax and regulate their highway and infrastructure projects." 

The proposal was cleared for a floor vote during debate on a new $325 billion highway bill by the Republican-led House Rules Committee on Tuesday night. It would not create a new law requiring the gas tax to be eliminated, but it would put lawmakers on record on the idea of abandoning the current federal transportation funding system.

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The concept of rolling back the gas tax, commonly referred to by transportation observers as “devolution,” is popular with staunch conservatives, who argue that development of road and transit infrastructure should be left up to states. The proposal typically calls for reducing the gas tax to 3.7 cents-per-gallon and replacing current congressional appropriations with block grants that states would compete for.

"The objective of the Federal highway program has been to facilitate the construction of a modern freeway system that promotes efficient interstate commerce by connecting all states," DeSantis's amendment says. "The Interstate System connecting all states is near completion.

"Each state is best capable of determining the needs of the state and acting on those needs," the amendment continues. "The federal role in highway transportation has, over time, usurped the role of the states by taxing motor fuels used in the States and then distributing the proceeds to the states based on the perceptions of the Federal Government on what is best for the states."  

Proposals to roll back the federal gas tax have been offered before, but it has been opposed by Democrats and Republican leaders in both chambers, who have sought to quash talk of devolution during transportation funding debates this year. 

Opponents of the proposal to eliminate the federal gas tax typically argue that the federal government is best suited to handle transportation infrastructure that runs between states, such as highways.

The anti-gas tax amendment's clearance for a floor vote on Tuesday night came after lawmakers on the House Rules panel blocked a vote on a separate proposal to increase the gas tax by 15 cents. 

The House's consideration of the devolution measure comes as lawmakers are grappling with a shortfall in transportation spending that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year.

The current transportation funding legislation, which is set to expire on Nov. 20, includes about $50 billion in annual spending on road and transit projects.

The 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax only brings in about $34 billion per year. Lawmakers have filled the gap in recent years by turning to other parts of the federal budget, but state governments have complained about the affect of temporary patches on construction planning. 

Transportation advocates have for pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for a longer infrastructure measure. They point out the federal gas tax has not been increased, or even indexed to inflation, since 1993.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump, and Republicans in particular have ruled out an increase this year. 

-Updated with new information at 3:39 p.m.