Truckers: If Congress raises fuel taxes, money should stay with highways

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman-elect Bill Shuster, R-PA, has not ruled out a fuel tax increase to fund transportation in the future, according to reports on Capitol Hill. Truckers say that if Congress does raise fuel taxes, the money should stay with highways and not be funneled away as part of a federal deficit-reduction plan.

Congress last raised the 18.4 cent tax on gasoline or the 24.4 cent tax on diesel in 1993. During the first two years of that tax increase, half the money went to balance the federal budget while still leaving the Highway Trust Fund in good standing.

But things are different now. Costs, inflation and stagnant revenue streams have left the Highway Trust Fund lacking for cash. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a $105 billion shortfall in highway and transit funding by 2022. Even with this shortfall spelled out in plain terms, some in Washington are saying a fuel tax increase should pay off deficits and balance the federal budget.

Truckers make up about 10 percent of traffic, but account for 36 percent of the money going into the Highway Trust Fund through fuel taxes and other user fees. They say the economy would be better served by improved highways, bridges and congestion relief.

“There’s a way that you can help the budget deficit without directing gas and diesel taxes away from the Highway Trust Fund – and that’s by shoring up the Trust Fund to ensure that it’s not going to need future bailouts,” OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley said.

“You get a budgetary benefit and then you get the benefits of highway projects, improved roads and bridges, improved safety, construction jobs, goods to market in a timely manner, all of those benefits that come with highway investment.”

Since 2008, Congress has transferred about $35 billion from general funds into the Highway Trust Fund to keep it operating in the black. Some see that as a fair turnabout from the 1993-1995 transfers out of the highway account.

When weighing the options for keeping the fund stocked in the future, a fuel tax still beats things like tolling or a mileage tax.

“For the people that have made tremendous investments in our current system, there really is no logical way forward other than to follow a tried-and-true method for funding highways,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer says. “Will it always be that way? Maybe not, but the only alternatives on the table are to fund the roads through tolls, and that should be a nonstarter.”

“The basic element hasn’t changed since it was theorized and put into motion by President Eisenhower – that if you want a National Highway System that serves the public, then the approach has to be national,” Spencer said.
See related stories in this series:
Opinions vary on solving the transportation funding crunch
Transportation has its own version of a fiscal cliff

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