Biden Administration Rules Out Gas Tax Hike

Shortly after Transportation secretary-nominee Pete Buttigieg told a Senate committee that all options were on the table to pay for federal transportation investment, a spokesperson ruled out a gas tax hike.

February 1, 2021, 6:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Biden administration

vasilis asvestas / Shutterstock

"Buttigieg, testifying before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at his confirmation hearing to be secretary of Transportation, was pressed on a gas tax increase by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., one of several Republicans eager to put him on the record supporting a tax hike," reports Jessica Wehrman for Roll Call on January 21.

“Would you support gas tax increases, and if so, how much?” asked Scott. 

“I think all options need to be on the table,” Buttigieg replied. “As you know, the gas tax has not been increased since 1993 and it’s never been pegged to inflation, and that is one of the reasons why the current state of the Highway Trust Fund is that there’s more going out than coming in.”

In response to a question from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, "Buttigieg said it was 'possible' the federal government could raise the gas tax," adds Wehrman.

“Certainly many states have taken that step, including my own, but it’s not the only approach,” he said.

Apparently, that was the statement, merely mentioning the possibility of a gas tax increase, that prompted the walk-back.

A Buttigieg spokesman later walked that statement back, telling reporters that a "variety of options need to be on the table to ensure we can invest in our highways and create jobs, but increasing the gas tax is not among them."

Buttigieg could have noted that the Indiana 10-cent per gallon gas tax hike was approved on the last day of the 1997 legislative session by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb. Unlike the federal gas tax, the legislation indexed fuel tax rates until July 1, 2024, capping the increase at one-cent-per-gallon, according to Planetizen.

Buttigieg could also have reminded the Utah senator about that his state legislature and governor agreed to a gas tax hike six years ago.

The editorial board of The Baltimore Sun expressed their disappointment with the new administration's position on the gas tax, particularly how it relates to Biden's much-touted plans to combat climate change.

It’s particularly unfortunate that President Biden has no appetite for the gas tax increase, because it’s also an effective tool in the battle against climate change. The plan he released Wednesday to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 would surely be improved if Americans faced higher gasoline prices, given that the transportation sector accounts for more than one-quarter of emissions.

A look back

Biden earlier declared his presidency would not be “a third Obama term,” but in terms of transportation funding, there seems to be no change. Almost 12 years ago, just months after his confirmation, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ruled out hiking the gas tax. The Biden administration acted even faster to calm gas tax critics that they wouldn't tamper with fuel prices.

As The Baltimore Sun editorial concluded, "A gas tax not only deserves to be on the table, it merits a prominent seat."

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