New Congress, new debate over taxes and highway funding

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 1/5/2015

The 114th Congress is now in session, and there’s already discussion brewing about long-term funding for highways, bridges and transit. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, says he has not ruled out a discussion of increasing fuel taxes to pay for transportation.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday” on Jan 4, Thune said that all options must remain on the table, including fuel taxes.

Federal taxes on gasoline and diesel have not increased since 1993. Inflation, higher construction costs, a lull in vehicle miles traveled, and an ever-increasing attention paid to fuel economy have contributed to a declining balance in the Highway Trust Fund.

Congress has transferred billions from general treasury funds to keep the highway account solvent in recent years, but lawmakers are searching for a replacement formula.

In 2013, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who will continue to be chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was taking the all-options approach, but he has more recently gone on record to say a fuel tax increase would be off the table for the House.

The new Congress does not have a lot of time at hand to pass at least a short-term transportation funding bill. An extended version of the 2012 highway bill known as MAP-21 expires in May.

MAP-21 stands for Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.

The White House and a number of key lawmakers are discussing how proceeds from proposed tax-reform bills could be used to fund transportation.

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