House GOP Wastes Time With Bogus Gas Tax Debate

If you’ve been following the ongoing transportation bill saga, then you know there’s a fair amount of gamesmanship going on in Congress right now — lots of political posturing, little progress on substantive policy. Here’s a great new example of what the House GOP has been up to instead of passing a transportation bill:

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake has an idea for the gas tax that is both irrelevant and bad. Photo: What's Your Password Jeff?

Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has proposed legislation that would guarantee all states get back at least 95 percent of the gas tax revenue they send to the federal government. (Currently the figure is 92 percent.) This is a bad idea for a few reasons — chief among them the preposterous notion that states should be rewarded for consuming more fuel. But here’s why it’s just plain ridiculous: If every state got back 95 percent of its gas tax money next year, then every single state would get less funding than they do now.

That’s because the federal government has been supplementing gas tax revenues (hello, no increase in 19 years) with general fund revenues — funds that might otherwise be used for education, healthcare or some other service. The result is that every state in the U.S. — all of them — now receives more money from the federal government than it contributes in gas taxes.

So what is Flake trying to accomplish? New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler said that not only was Flake wasting everyone’s time, he was taking a shot at more efficient states like New York and Oregon. Nadler’s office had this to say:

Because gas tax funds have long been insufficient to national transportation needs and general treasury funds already supplement gas tax revenue, all states are already receiving more in transportation funding than is collected by the gas tax. Therefore, the motion is purely symbolic in nature. Nevertheless, Nadler argued that the principle behind the motion is wrong.

It is highly irresponsible to pick out, and insist upon, one factor that affects the overall funding distribution to the states without a complete picture of how the programs will be funded and apportioned. The Senate did raise the minimum percentage to 95%, but within an overall framework that required that each state get the same percentage of funds it received in the last year of SAFETEA-LU. In the Senate bill, all states were held harmless. [Flake's] motion … does not insist on adopting the Senate’s funding structure. It cherry picks one factor to benefit certain states at the expense of others.

Make no mistake – this is not about ‘equity.’  This is about gaming the system by applying this principle to one aspect of one program to benefit certain states at the expense of others.

Flake’s motion may be a non-starter, but more and more, that seems to be the House GOP strategy: Drag the proceedings out until nothing gets done at all.