Business and Labor Agree: Boost the Gas Tax

At a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting on Feb. 12, leaders from big labor, big business, AASHTO, and AMTRAK testified to the importance of keeping the Highway Trust Fund solvent. The first two specified increasing the gas tax.

"U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that increasing the gas tax would be "the simplest, most straight-forward, and most effective way to generate enough revenue" to cover an estimated $20 billion per year shortfall in transportation funding," wrote Keith Laing, The Hill's veteran transportation reporter.

The Chamber leader received back up from an unlikely source on Wednesday from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who told the panel, "The gas tax was last raised in 1993 when it represented 17 percent of the price of fuel; it now represents about five percent of the cost of fuel."

He agreed with Donohue in that boosting the federal gas tax, unchanged for two decades, was the way to go. Both agreed that a "user fee" approach made the most sense, as did committee chair, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), because of the "certainty" it provides.

Additional witnesses included Mike Hancock, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) who warned of "serious economic disruptions as early as this summer if USDOT delays reimbursements to the states for projects already completed." MAP-21, the current, two-year transportation bill expires on Sept. 31, 2014.

Hancock's testimony (PDF) suggested three options to deal with the impending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF):

1. Provide additional General Fund transfers to the HTF in order to maintain the current level of highway and transit investment and meet prior-year obligations.

2. Provide additional receipts to the HTF by adjusting existing revenue mechanisms or implementing new sources of revenue. 

3. Virtually eliminate new federal highway and transit obligations in FY 2015.

Finally, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman joined in. "We need a balanced Transportation Trust Fund that can provide investment in any surface mode-- including Highway, Transit, and Rail (both passenger and freight)," he said. 
However, Laing notes that "Amtrak traditionally receives about $1 billion per year in funding from Congress, but the money is usually drawn from other places than the Highway Trust Fund."

Full Story: Business, labor groups push for gas tax hike

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