Washington Post Endorses Blumenauer's Gas Tax Hike and Mileage Fee Study Bills

The Washington Post editorial pulled no punches. The Highway Trust Fund must be fully funded, meaning that gas taxes must increase in the short term. Furthermore, a transition to a road usage fee is needed, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer's 2 bills do both.
December 30, 2013, 1pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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Warning that the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for both roads and transit, will become insolvent late next year, the editorial calls for immediate Congressional action.

At the moment, the loudest advocate for fixing it responsibly is a liberal Democrat, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.). This month Mr. Blumenauer proposed two bills meant to refill the fund based on the simple, unassailable principle that those who use the roads should pay for them. The measures are backed by a broad coalition of business and labor groups, and they are sensible.

The editorial's only suggestion was that "the hike should be higher," referencing a 2009 Resources For the Future 'discussion paper': "How Much Should Highway Fuels Be Taxed?" [PDF].

Blumenauer's bill, H.R. 3636, increases the federal 18.4 cent gasoline excise tax, unchanged for two decades, "by a modest 15 cents over the next three years, and then index(es) it to inflation, which Congress should have done in the first place," the editorial states. Blumenauer chose 15 cents as that was what the Deficit Commission's final report [PDF], released in December, 2010, proposed. [Also discussed here.]

While the gas tax "remains the best existing template to shore up the trust fund...in the era of the hybrid vehicle, a gas tax will become decreasingly useful," the editorial warns in light of increased fuel efficiency and new technologies. "So Mr. Blumenauer’s second bill [H.R.3638] would cautiously promote a better but more controversial way to pay for transportation infrastructure: taxes on the number of miles people drive." [Also posted here].

Should Congress choose not to act, it may attempt to fill-in the shortfall between what the existing gas and diesel taxes provide and what the government spends, about $14 billion as noted in a New York Times editorial suggesting a "ton-mile fee" posted here Friday. That's been the pattern since 2008, as we noted in April, with general fund transfers totaling $41 billion to the trust fund.

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Published on Thursday, December 26, 2013 in The Washington Post - Editorial
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