Concrete Proposals for Raising Gas Tax Finally on the Table

After a lot of vague talk about transportation revenues since the passage of MAP-21 — “everything is on the table” and “we need to think outside the box” — real proposals are finally being presented.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer is introducing a bill to raise the gas tax by 15 cents a gallon. Photo: Michael Clapp/##http://www.opb.org/news/article/wyden-blumenauer-address-security-and-privacy-concerns/##OPB##
Rep. Earl Blumenauer is introducing a bill to raise the gas tax by 15 cents a gallon. Photo: Michael Clapp/##http://www.opb.org/news/article/wyden-blumenauer-address-security-and-privacy-concerns/##OPB##

A few months ago, House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster told me, “The surest way to kill something is to get out there way far in front before anything is possible.” He said you’ve got to figure out when the timing is right.

Apparently, it’s right now.

Tomorrow, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) will introduce a bill to raise the federal gas tax by 15 cents a gallon, the amount suggested a few years back by the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission.

The proposal would go a long way toward solving the immediate problem: The Highway Trust Fund is projected to be flat broke by the time a new transportation bill needs to be negotiated next year. But it still doesn’t tie the tax to inflation or the price of gas, so Congress would still periodically need to take on the politically difficult task of voting to raise it. And in the long term, it could prove unsustainable to keep transportation funding tied to gas consumption, which is dropping with greater fuel efficiency and less driving.

Still, when Blumenauer announces his bill tomorrow, he’ll be flanked by people representing labor, business, transit, transportation reform groups, and road builders. All of those interests have been banging the drum for greater transportation investment for years. They are not picky about how the revenue gets raised.

Indeed, members of this coalition applauded in October when former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — muzzled during his tenure from making any such proposals — came out in favor of a 10-cent hike in the gas tax. Within a few days, US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue was touting that idea. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a 10-cent fuel tax increase would be enough to make the Highway Trust Fund solvent.

Meanwhile, Senator Barbara Boxer — whose opinion about these things matters most, as she heads the powerful Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — signaled that she’s most favorable to a wholesale oil fee — a percentage sales tax applied at the refinery level.

Such a fee looks a little less like a consumption tax than a straight gas tax hike would, though producers would most likely pass the costs along to the consumers all the same. Joshua Schank of the Eno Center for Transportation wrote a thoughtful response to Boxer’s proposal at the time, saying it had some potential for being more stable than an increase like Blumenauer is proposing, but it breaks with the longstanding concept of funding transportation through road user fees — although the federal transportation program hasn’t stayed true to that concept in recent years.

Boxer had previously indicated that she supported a VMT fee, though she considered it a non-starter with her colleagues. LaHood got in trouble with the White House a few years back for floating the idea as well.

MAP-21 expires September 30, 2014. Congress doesn’t have the luxury of dawdling through three years of extensions, like it did last time. There will be no money for transportation next year if something isn’t done.

  • I’m disappointed that they aren’t making it a percentage or linking it to inflation so the likelihood of this debate ever happening again would disappear

  • Jesse

    What´s with the beard, Earl? Did you get nominated for an Oscar?

  • SFnative74

    It’s about time, as it has been 20 years since the last gas tax adjustment!

  • Kyriacos Stavrinides

    What about removing some roads to reduce TOD financial obligations?

    I never read about that possibility, but it seems like a plausible candidate of brining the current gas tax in line with the required transportation spending. There are other benefits to this as well.

  • Richard

    The feds don’t actually maintain that many roads, most of their money is used for replacement and new projects. Not having a gas tax hike will just mean more overcapacity bridges and unsafe interchanges. Eventually roads and bridges will come to the end of their life naturally and either they will go away or local jurisdictions will have to find a way to fund a replacement.

  • Jack Jackson

    Obama campaigned on not raising taxes on Americans making less than $250k a year. So expect a veto even if any of these miraculously got through the Congress

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    Which is why you just tax the gas stations rather than the individual. A loophole in the campaign promise.

  • Jack Jackson

    ah yes…indirect taxation over direct…government’s best answer for screwing people over since 1787

  • Richard Ellmyer

    Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D) needs to spend more time addressing the issue of TRANSPORTING COAL through HIS DISTRICT in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest than his FANTASY bill to double the federal gas tax.

    Blumenauer does NOT appear to have a single member of the House of Representatives supporting his tax bill which includes the most important person is this story, the Republican Chairman, Dave Camp, of the House Ways and Means Committee.

    There is an unwritten rule followed by most reporters most of the time with regard to reporting bills submitted anytime to any legislative body and with good reason.

    Unless and until a bill is put on the table by the chair of the committee in which it resides it is NOT newsworthy. A bill has NO REALITY until this condition is met.

    The day the Republican Chairman, Dave Camp, of the House Ways and Means Committee places Democrat Earl Blumenauer’s bill to double the federal gas tax before his committee for discussion and for a vote to refer Blumenauer’s bill to the full house is the day reporters should jump on the story. Until then the unwritten rule applies.

    Earl Blumenauer refused to support an updated study of the carcinogenic effects of diesel emissions from tug boats and locomotives in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area on plants, animals and people that would be caused by transporting massive amounts of coal by rail and barge.

    Earl Blumenauer refused to support a study of jobs lost and businesses closed by transporting massive amounts of Powder River Basin Coal through HIS DISTRICT and the Pacific Northwest.

    Earl Blumenauer has REFUSED to stand up and lend his political voice, which requires no Republican nor Democratic congressional support, to stopping coal exports through Oregon and Washington.

    Apparently Earl thinks the Republican NO TAXES, old or new – except on the poor, binding ideological policy has mysteriously changed and the rest of us have missed it.

    Our dysfunctional House of Representatives can’t decide to open or close the government. It can’t agree on whether to pay its bills or stiff its creditors. Some of Earl’s Republican colleagues are proposing legislation that would take heaps of money from Social Security’s senior recipients and give it to the Pentagon generals to buy more guns so they won’t have to raise taxes to increase our already embarrassing cache of nuclear and conventional weapons. These are the people Earl Blumenauer expects to raise federal gas taxes.

    Why do you suppose that the federal gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1993 considering both Rs and Ds have been in control of the congress during that period? Earl has obviously divined a change in the federal gas tax zeitgeist. I see a cameo role for Earl on the TV show, The Mentalist.

    My Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer must STOP wasting his time on big ticket FEDERAL tax bills that don’t have a snowballs chance in hell of passage.

    My Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer must START paying attention to HIS DISTRICT, clean air, healthy rivers and protecting our national treasure, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area among many other very good reasons to stop coal exports through the Pacific Northwest.

    Richard Ellmyer
    Chair, North Portland Coal Committee
    http://www.facebook.com/northportlandcoalcommittee

    P.S.
    Ron Wyden held the seat Blumenauer now occupies. Wyden beat incumbent Bob Duncan in the Democratic primary because Duncan became more interested in Washington D.C. and federal issues than taking care of business BACK HOME in Oregon. The transport of coal through Blumenauer’s district is a very important LOCAL issue. Fantasy trips on the federal carousel gas tax pony just to grab the brass national self-promotion and publicity ring will certainly disincline LOCAL voters from continuing to pay for Blumenauer’s joyrides.

  • Jack Jackson

    there is a great word in Spanish for you

    aguafiesta

  • Art Dollens

    Why don’t we install a Speculators tax at the WillStreet level calling it Camel Flatulation……….any time a Middle Eastern disruption in Market stability dictates widespread speculation over Supply disruption, real or Manufactured lets hit the Traders(you know that vast number) and let them pay for their Created volatility on every single Transaction(real or Manufactured)……and when that single lone refinery malfunctions, that’ll be covered also

  • Steve

    A good first step, but we need greater action to solve our pollution problems! How about raising the gas tax by a penny a week for 2-4 years. That gives poor folks time to move closer to their work; builders to create housing and legislators time to create public transportation and bikepaths. We’ve got to stop expecting future generations to pay for our selfishness and laziness.

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