50-Cent Gas Tax Increase Ruled-Out by GOP Congressional Leaders

News of the GOP's rejection of a gas tax increase comes from reports on two recent private meetings between Republican leaders and the Trump Administration.
January 12, 2018, 12pm PST | Irvin Dawid
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"President Trump privately suggested massively increasing the gas tax to help fund a national infrastructure overhaul, but Republican leaders in Congress moved quickly to shut down the idea," report Damian Paletta and Erica Werner for The Washington Post on January 10.

During a White House meeting with House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) [who announced last week that he will not seek reelection] several weeks ago, Trump mused about a gas tax increase to 50 cents per gallon, almost triple the current level.....

Trump, Cabinet members and GOP leaders also discussed the gas tax increase during joint meetings this weekend in Camp David.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who attended the the Camp David meeting, stated, “...I have complete confidence that we will not be raising the gas tax.”

The discussions underscore the difficulty Trump faces as he seeks to finance his 2016 campaign promise of a $1 trillion national infrastructure upgrade...The White House is expected to release an infrastructure plan as soon as this month, but that plan is not expected to dictate how the projects would be paid for..

White House officials said they still have not made a final determination as to whether they will pursue an increase in the gas tax, even though GOP leaders have made clear an increase will not have enough Republican support to become law.

Nor should Trump expect help from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who told the Daily Beast that he opposes hiking the gas tax to finance the president's infrastructure plan, reported Sam Stein on Nov. 23, 2017.

“The bottom line is that we don’t want to raise taxes on working people right now,” Schumer said. “As it stands now that is where we are at. Income distribution is so bad, I would rather pay for infrastructure by taking the money that comes from overseas [repatriation] and putting it into infrastructure.”

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who now serves as co-chair of Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition dedicated to infrastructure investment, called Schumer’s remarks shortsighted.

Not entirely ruled out

"A White House spokeswoman said the concept 'hasn’t been taken off the table, as most previous administrations have done,'” add Paletta and Werner. Both Trump and Gary D. Cohn, the director of the White House National Economic Council, have previously expressed support for increasing the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax, last raised by President Bill Clinton in 1993, 25 years ago, for infrastructure investment.

Sen. Cornyn's warning notwithstanding, there is support within the GOP for hiking the gas tax, though not much.

Several Republicans had echoed Trump’s openness to boost the gas tax, saying it was one way to raise money for infrastructure projects. “I’m still open to it,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) Tuesday [Jan. 9] after meeting with White House officials about infrastructure plans for this year.

Rep. Shuster refused to rule out a gas tax increase as well.

Infrastructure plan update

White House aides have said the president’s broader infrastructure plan would be designed with $200 billion in federal funding and rely on states, localities, or private investors to cover the remaining $800 billion, but Trump has waffled on this, saying he doesn’t believe partnerships between the federal government and private investors would work.

And states will need to be careful on how they finance their share of infrastructure projects, as illustrated by the administration's threatened rejection of the all-important Hudson River rail tunnel project due to New York's and New Jersey's reliance on borrowing from the federal government.

Opposition to increasing gas tax not shared by GOP governors and state legislatures.

Last year, eight states increased their gas taxes, most of which had GOP governors and/or GOP-controlled state legislatures: 

CaliforniaTennesseeMontanaIndianaSouth Carolina (overriding a governor's veto), Utah (more of an adjustment), West Virginia and Oregon.

However, it was an odd-numbered year; don't count on many this year.

Hat tip to AASHTO Daily Transportation Update.

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 in The Washington Post
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