WASHINGTON Nov 30 The U.S. Congress should
consider raising the federal gasoline tax as part of a budget
deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the year
and to help ensure funding for some $150 billion of highway
projects needed over the next decade, transportation and
business advocates said on Friday.
"We continue to advocate that as one of many (options to
fund highway programs) ... We think there are a whole range of
options out there that the government can use to fund the
programs and all of those should be on the table," said Pete
Ruane, head of the American Road and Transportation Builders
Association, during a panel discussion.
The federal government has collected a gasoline tax since
1932. The amount has risen over the years, but has been about
18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. The revenue is used for the
Highway Trust Fund, which Congress created in 1956 to pay for
Partly because of increases in fuel efficiency, the gasoline
tax no longer collects enough money to pay for highway
maintenance and new construction seen essential for safety, the
smooth flow of commerce and U.S. international competitiveness.
The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission in 2010 recommended
increasing the federal gasoline tax by 15 cents per gallon to
fully fund transportation trust funds so that other federal
revenues do not have to pay for highway projects.
But the idea is so politically unpopular that it does not
seem to be under serious consideration in the current fiscal
cliff discussions, said Jeffrey Shane, a former Transportation
Department official, referring to a series of automatic tax
increases and spending cuts that will go into effect early in
2013 if a new budget deal is not reached.
"Why is an increase in the gas tax, to some extent, not a
no-brainer? It raises revenue and it diminishes the need to go
into the general fund for more deficit spending," Shane said.
Representative Bill Shuster, the incoming Republican
chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee, said earlier this week the White House
and Congress should look at all options, including raising the
federal gasoline tax, in the fiscal cliff talks.
"Is it something difficult? Sure. But I think it's one of
those things you've got to look at while we're going through
this negotiation," Shuster told reporters
The current shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund is about $7
billion to $10 billion per year and will only get worse over
time, requiring Congress to look at various options for filling
that gap, Shuster said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports raising the gasoline
tax, but it is still a tough sell politically because many
voters do not make the connection between higher prices at the
pump and improvements in the transportation system.