Another influential voice on Wednesday joined the chorus in favor of a federal gas tax hike to meet a looming gap in transportation funding.
The nonpartisan Miller Center at the University of Virginia, which had documented an urgent need for renewing critical infrastructure, said increasing the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax for the first time since 1993 was the best available option.
The center, in a statement, said that President Obama’s proposal to fund transportation through “a massive tax reform effort that closes numerous loopholes” isn’t likely to win approval on Capitol Hill
“It is worth noting that Obama has declined to support the gas tax publicly up until now. Yet, it would not be a stretch to assume that he would be in favor of such a measure should it come across his desk,” the center said. “Thus, given the choice of paying for infrastructure via a fuel tax versus not at all, one could reasonably surmise that he would comply.”
Current transportation funding expires on May 31, just as many states get the summer season of construction and repair underway. Without an influx of new revenue, Congress would have to transfer billions in general tax funds to bolster the declining Highway Trust Fund.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AAA and the American Trucking Associations are among those who have come out in support of a gas tax increase. In an open letter to Congress last week, the three groups said, “There is a simple solution to address this issue in the near-term: raise the federal fuels user fee, provided the funds are used to ease congestion and improve safety.”
A bipartisan proposal in the Senate from Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has gotten rumblings of support from both parties. (It would increase the federal tax by 12 cents over two years and index it to inflation.)
But a gas tax increase is forecast to fail in the House, where House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said, “I don’t see the votes for it.”
The Miller Center bolsters its argument for an increase by citing the dramatic drop in gas prices, which are below $2 a gallon in some regions of the country.
“Consumers are least likely to notice rate increases the lower prices go,” the center said. “Thus, now is the moment to enact such a change.”