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GOP Rep. Petri joins bill to raise the federal gas tax

The Highway Trust Fund, our nation’s key infrastructure funding source, has been teetering on the edge of insolvency for the last half decade, with legislators from both parties unable to secure a long term funding source.

Rather than continue to stand by and do nothing, retiring Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) has decided to join Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, as a co-sponsor on a bill to gradually raise our current gas tax 15 cents to a total of 33.3 cents. That would be the first increase since 1993 when Bill Clinton was president and gas cost a little more than a dollar. The measure also would also index the tax to inflation to stave off future shortfalls.

On Wednesday morning, the bipartisan pair will host an event on Capitol Hill, accompanied by President Reagan – or at least his words and image., Reagan “spoke eloquently on the need for Congress to raise the gas tax in 1982,” according to a joint statement from the two.

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Representative Blumenauer quotes President Reagan on the need for an increase of the gas tax at a press event at the Capitol.

Representative Petri has long been a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the House side and has said for years now that Congress needs to address the constant deficiencies of the Highway Trust Fund.

“In the Highways and Transit subcommittee, we have held hearing after hearing where state transportation officials, mayors, governors, truckers, transit operators, economists, and experts in transportation policy have testified with unwavering support for a long-term, fully-funded surface transportation bill,” said Petri, after the last short term fix was applied to the Highway Trust Fund over the summer.  “That should still be our goal.”

Blumenauer has been echoing similar sentiments since introducing a similar bill last December.

”Today, with inflation and increased fuel efficiency for vehicles, the average motorist is paying about half as much per mile as they did in 1993,” Blumenauer said in a statement at the time of the introduction. “It’s time for Congress to act. There’s a broad and persuasive coalition that stands ready to support Congress. We just need to give them something to support.”

Although the idea of raising the gas tax polls poorly, politicians of either party would seem to have little to fear from their constituents if they make a good case for ensuring sound highways and transit investments. Since 2012, 98 percent of state legislators in a variety of states including Wyoming, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Hampshire who voted to approve an increase of the gas tax were re-elected in their next primary, our analysis shows.

When Senators Murphy and Corker introduced their bipartisan bill that would have raised the gas tax 12 cents over the next two years, Transportation for America’s director, James Corless, stated his approval with an urgency to find a long-term solution instead of short-term fixes.

“A return to stable funding will ensure that our states and communities can repair aging roads, bridges and transit systems and build the infrastructure we need for a growing economy. The alternative is to allow our transportation system to crumble along with an economy hobbled by crapshoot commutes and clogged freight corridors.”

4 Comments

  1. John Doherty

    3 years ago

    This would be a gradual 45% increase in gas taxes — not nearly enough to make up for losses to inflation over the previous decades, but real progress. Will politicians have the courage to pass it? I’m not holding my breath.

  2. Joseph

    3 years ago

    The thing that worries me is that this is going to continue to fuel an expansionist, “let’s just keep building more highways” program. We need *sensible* transportation projects, not just more highways. We need good trains, good busses, good bike and good pedestrian infrastructure. It’s especially shocking how bad the last two can be, even in dense communities where it should be excellent.

    • Irvin

      3 years ago

      Expansion of highways is determined mostly by state DOTs. The purpose of this bill is to supply funding for transportation projects and programs, not determine priorities, I believe. As long as the HTF gets funded, either by transfers from the general fund (since 2008), or, should this bill pass, by a user fee, highway expansions will occur if that’s a state’s policy.

      I think the purpose of the bill is to provide a sustainable source of revenue. Starving the HTF of gas tax revenue is not the way to fight highway expansions – but it is a good way to ensure that we subsidize those expansions that do occur.

  3. TransportMan

    3 years ago

    This is a great first start. To Joe’s comment, just tune in to the recent 60 Minutes special…our nation’s existing roads and bridges are falling apart. We’re approaching a transportation system in total peril. We need a giant investment – and stress this is NOT a tax, but a fee to invest in infrastructure – our nation’s backbone.