By Michael A. Memoli, June 18, 2014
A customer prepares to fuel her vehicle at a Road Ranger gas station in Princeton, Ill.
As Congress works to approve a short-term infusion of cash to prevent a
halt in highway and road construction projects this summer, a pair of
senators called Wednesday for raising national fuel taxes by 12 cents a
gallon over the next two years as part of a plan to ensure the long-term
solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.
Conceding that it might not be an easy political sell, especially in
an election year, Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat
Chris Murphy of Connecticut called their proposal the most
straightforward solution to address shortfalls in what was designed to
be a self-sustaining fund for infrastructure projects.
18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline has not been raised for more than
two decades, and an increase in vehicle fuel efficiency has led to
shrinking revenue for the fund.
The previous two-year
transportation bill tapped the Treasury to make up for a projected gap,
but the trust fund ran dry faster than anticipated.
plan would raise the gas tax 6 cents in 2015 and again in 2016, and then
provide for future annual increases at the rate of inflation.
They would seek to couple the increased fuel costs with some form of
tax relief, either through permanently extending certain tax breaks that
are now renewed annually, or leaving it to congressional tax-writing
committees to develop other plans.
"We are sick and tired of
Congress talking about fixing our transportation funding shortfall and
avoiding specifics simply because the solutions are politically
uncomfortable," Murphy said at a news conference announcing the plan.
"Money is not going to fall off trees or sprout out of the ground to
fill the funding gap."
The Republican-controlled House is expected to move forward with a plan
to replenish the trust fund through early next year using general funds.
It also would end postal delivery on Saturdays, an idea the U.S.
Postal Service wants Congress to approve to keep America’s postal
service financially stable
The GOP plan essentially calls for
using money that could keep the Postal Service afloat if it continues
six-day delivery to instead ensure highway and other road projects are
funded into next year.
Corker called the House GOP idea a "gimmick."
"Only in Washington would you take money from one insolvent enterprise to solve another insolvent enterprise," he said.
lawmakers in both parties have floated alternative proposals that could
keep the Highway Trust Fund secure, including a temporary tax holiday
for corporate overseas earnings, or new taxes related to offshore oil
Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the departing chairman of the
Ways and Means Committee, called for dedicating $126.5 billion to the
trust fund as part of a major overhaul of the nation's tax code, enough
money to fund highway projects for eight years. The White House has
supported a similar idea.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has said he hopes his committee can agree on a solution this month.
and Corker said they understand that their plan is unlikely to be
approved in the short term, particularly with the entire House and a
third of the Senate facing elections this fall.
But they said they hoped Congress can adopt the plan next year when lawmakers are likely to consider other tax reform proposals.
also defended his support for raising a tax – typically anathema for
Republicans – in part by arguing that continued short-term patches that
require more borrowing are even worse. And he said coupling the plan
with other tax relief should satisfy conservatives.
long-term solution is found, he said, “tt the end of the day after
playing chicken, both sides will throw their children under the bus and
borrow money to make it happen. That to me is not conservative. That to
me is not prudent."
The Club For Growth, a leading anti-tax group, was unconvinced.
is a $164-billion tax increase, plain and simple," said Chris Chocola,
the group's president. "Rather than perpetuate this failed system,
Congress should devolve highway funding to the states and let them fund
their own infrastructure needs."