Speaker of the US House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that a long-term solution for funding the nation’s highway and other infrastructure projects, as well as tax reform, “are in the realm of doable,” this weekend. Boehner said he would encourage President Obama to work with the Congress and pass both in the last two years of his term.
“I think the conversation’s pretty straightforward,” Boehner told ABC News’s “This Week.” “Mr. President, you’ve got 2 years left. Want to have two years like we’ve had the last four years where we just butt heads and butt heads and butt heads? I didn’t come to Washington to make noise. I went there to do something on behalf of my country. And I think the president ran for office to do something on behalf of the country.”
Funding the construction of highways, bridges and other infrastructure projects, currently funded entirely by the federal gasoline tax, has been an ongoing debate in Washington for the last 3 years. Most democrats and even some republicans favor an increase of 12 cents per gallon on the current 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax to reinvigorate what’s known as the Highway Trust Fund. Some republicans, however, point out that ANY increase in the federal gas tax would be inherently flawed because the funding mechanism is no longer relevant to today’s transportation system. With Americans driving less, the tax simply will not cover the miles and miles of road projects it needs to, no matter what rate it is raised to, they say.
The prevalence of cheap and easy to buy airfare and the mass acceptance of hybrid cars have made gasoline consumption a poor way to fund highways, they argue. Even the aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150 will go further on a gallon of gasoline than previous F-150 models. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has introduced a bill to abolish the fund entirely and give the gas tax money to states in the form of block grants to let them manage their own roads, including the portions of of interstate highways that fall within their borders.
In August the House and Senate passed an $11 billion stopgap bill with funding coming mostly from customs fees that delayed a long-term decision on how to fund transportation projects to May. With the November elections coming up, the issue will surely be revisited early next year and if the republicans take control of the Senate expect a robust argument in favor of changing the current system.
Since 2013 lawmakers in a handful of states—including Maryland, Vermont, and Wyoming—have raised their state gasoline taxes. Virginia eliminated its gas tax and replaced it with a higher sales tax. The question comes down to road use and who and what to tax. Should an 18-wheeled, long-haul truck, which studies have shown does more damage to a road, pay the same or comparable fuel tax as a Toyota Prius? Is it time to charge for highway usage rather than consumption of fuel?