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Dem unveils bill to raise gas tax by a penny

Dem unveils bill to raise gas tax by a penny
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Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) doesn’t want a penny for your thoughts; he wants a penny for your help in improving the nation’s infrastructure.

The top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled new legislation Wednesday that would raise the gas tax by approximately 1 cent per year, to generate about $500 billion for revitalizing U.S. roads, bridges and transit systems over the next 30 years.

Hiking the federal gasoline tax, which hasn’t been done in over 20 years, is a hot-button issue in Congress, where agreeing on ways to pay for transportation upgrades has long remained elusive.

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But DeFazio said he has growing support behind closed doors for what he calls a “pathetically small increase” in the gas tax, especially with the Trump administration putting a greater spotlight on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. 

“I’ve had many off-the-record conversations with people when I propose the barrel tax, or when I propose this, and they say I like it, I’ll vote for it, but I’m not going to put my name on it,” DeFazio said during a meeting with reporters. “Someone’s got to take the lead. I’m taking the lead.”

The bill would index the gas and diesel tax to the cost of constructing transportation projects and to the reduction in motor fuel usage, which would approximately translate into a 1-cent increase every year. The hike would be capped at 1.5 cents annually.

The Treasury Department would use that new revenue to issue and pay back 30-year “Invest in America Bonds,” and deposit the cash from those bond sales into the ailing Highway Trust Fund. 

The measure, which would lead to a 30 percent boost in infrastructure investment every year, would ensure that the money is invested proportionally among highway, transit and safety programs.

DeFazio said he broached the idea in a recent conversation with DJ Gribbin, special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy. Gribbin didn’t make any commitments to incorporate the language in Trump’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, but he also didn’t rule it out and called the concept “timely,” according to DeFazio.

Trump has not publicly weighed in on the thorny issue, but DeFazio thinks having the support of the White House could help erode some Republican opposition in Congress and bring along key lawmakers such as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

“Trump is going to be critical, because he’s got to overcome the inertia of the Republican leadership,” DeFazio said. “If Trump were to support this, I believe Chairman Shuster would step up.”

The concept is sure to face some fierce opposition on Capitol Hill, though. Critics say raising the gas tax is not a sustainable funding solution to plug the Highway Trust Fund because vehicles are becoming increasingly fuel-efficient.

But at least at the local level, the idea appears to have traction. Seventeen states have raised their gas taxes since 2013, including nine red states. Those increases range from 1 cent to 27 cents.

DeFazio swatted down the notion that supporting a federal gas increase is politically risky. He pointed out that he represents a swing district where Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFederal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world Intercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years MORE won by only 504 votes, but he isn’t worried about getting any blowback from his constituents over the legislation.

“If anybody doesn’t have enough guts to vote for something that can do a $500 billion investment, that will create tens of thousand of jobs, because they think they’re going to lose their election … they don’t belong here,” DeFazio said.