Highways are run-down and broken. They’re causing damage to vehicles. More than 60,000 bridges are labeled structurally deficient.
And America’s infrastructure money is quickly running out.
Members of Congress are faced with a so-called funding cliff for the Highway Trust Fund, and the House Ways and Means Committee is searching for a long-term solution. Congress has passed dozens of short-term measures to replenish the fund in the past few years, with several of those including pulling money from the general fund of the U.S. Treasury.
After approving another extension just last month, Congress is facing a July 31 deadline to establish funding for the trust fund, which pays for the majority of federal surface transportation spending in the United States.
“Instead of heeding the call, we are lurching from crisis to crisis,” Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said.
Pascrell suggested the best short-term solution is raising the gas tax.
Drivers are paying 18.4 cents per gallon for the tax, the same price they paid over 20 years ago.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D–Ore., sponsored a bill proposing a 15-cent increase per gallon over the next three years. And Pascrell, along with Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, is sponsoring a bill to use an increased gas tax as a short-term solution and create a bipartisan commission to find a realistic long-term solution. They propose to raise the tax by tying it to inflation.
Blumenauer and Pascrell, as well as several industry leaders, argue that raising the gas tax is the only realistic solution.
“Roads and bridges aren’t free, and they certainly aren’t cheap,” said Bill Graves, the CEO of American Trucking Associations and a former governor of Kansas. “Congress has been operating under the assumption that pennies might fall from heaven … We know the fuel tax works. It’s easy to administer, Americans are familiar with it and with some modifications to account for the emerging class of non-fuel vehicles, it would continue to be viable for years if the rate were raised.”
Nineteen states have raised their individual gasoline taxes, Blumenauer said, including six Republican-leaning states in this past year.
Yet Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has been a long opponent of raising the gas tax. He says raising it is not an option.
“The problem is the current user-pays system doesn’t pay enough,” Ryan said. “So I want to make something very clear: We are not going to raise the gas tax. There’s not much happening in this economy to help it grow, but lower gas prices, that’s one thing that’s happening that’s good for consumers.”
The White House has also shown hesitancy to increasing the gas tax in the past, instead recommending to implement a one-time tax on American companies that work aboard to fill the Highway Trust Fund.
Other options for long-term solutions include fees from tolls and cutting spending by limiting the scope of programs covered by the fund. Ways and Means committee members will continue the discussion next week in a subcommittee hearing.
Reach reporter Jaelynn Grisso at [email protected] or (202) 408-1493. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
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