The good news is that a House Republican now supports raising the gas tax to balance the ailing Highway Trust Fund. The bad news is that come Jan. 3, Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), a 36-year member, will be a former congressman—he is retiring on Dec. 26
“No one likes taxes,” Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) said (Dec. 02) in an interview with The Huffington Post, writes political reporter Sam Stein. “But the issue is whether we should pay for transportation, or cut back on spending and transportation and have less roads and poorer infrastructure, or borrow it from our kids -- debt financing it and hoping someone pays the debt off at a future date. And of those choices, it seems to me that the most responsible long-term approach is to do the thing that is unpopular but necessary.”
In terms of transportation, Petri is a powerful Republican. He has served on the the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since 1983 and as Chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee since 2013, so he will have a platform to explain his co-sponsorship of Blumenauer's bill, H.R. 3636: "Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials Act of 2013 (aka UPDATE Act) before the 113th Congress ends on Dec. 26. The bill "would raise the gas tax by 15 cents over three years and then tie it to inflation," notes Stein.
He is liked by the public transit and bicycling communities, having been honored by the American Public Transit Association (APTA) on Oct. 14 with its National Distinguished Service Award. "In 2012, he received the Wisconsin Bike Federation’s Hero Award for his work as the Republican co-chair of the Congressional Bicycle Caucus," adds Stein. Steetsblog's Tanya Snyder wrote last year that Petri "is a frequent speaker at the National Bike Summit."
With gas prices 50-cents a gallon lower than this time last year, Petri suggests this would be an opportune to raise the gas tax as prices are predicted to continue falling.
“I think there are a lot of people out there who would be willing to [take] an increasingly small political hit now that the price of gasoline is dropping, if it were to actually achieve the result of responsibly funding our transportation program for five to six years,” Petri told The Huffington Post.
While Republicans may want to make the Highway Trust Fund sustainable by increasing its main source of revenue, the federal gas tax, many of them are handicapped by "the pledge", referring to a pledge devised by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a taxpayer advocacy group, that many Republican elected officials have taken not to raise taxes.
Norquist doesn't appear sympathetic to raising the federal gas tax to fund transportation improvements. In fact, as we noted in August, 2011, it is questionable as to whether he supports even renewing the current 18.4-cent tax, let alone increasing it.
Petri's announcement of co-sponsorship of a bill to raise gas taxes 15-cents with indexing to inflation within weeks of his retirement appears reminiscent of Republicans willing to mitigate or even acknowledge climate change only to find themselves in danger losing their House seat to Tea Party primary challengers, as we noted in a post of an interview with former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis.
A bipartisan plan to raise gas taxes by 12-cents over two years with indexing to inflation exists in the Senate known as the Corker-Murphy Plan (see one-page description). Unlike the UPDATE Act, "it would offset that hike with tax relief elsewhere," notes Stein.
[Hat tip to Transportation For America Blog].
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