Lawmakers channel Reagan to promote fuel-tax increase

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 12/3/2014

A Republican and two Democrats are channeling the words of former President Ronald Reagan to promote an increase in federal gasoline and diesel taxes.

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., a prominent member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, joined Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., on Wednesday, Dec. 3, to draw support for Blumenauer’s proposed 15-cent increase in gas and diesel taxes.

Photo courtesy of Rep. Petri.

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., foreground, joined Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and a cutout of former President Ronald Reagan in promoting a fuel-tax increase to pay for transportation.

Blumenauer introduced his bill, HR3636, one year ago, on Dec. 3, 2013. Dubbed the UPDATE Act, it would increase the gas tax to 33.4 cents per gallon and the diesel tax to 39.4 cents per gallon over a three-year period and index them to inflation after that. The bill currently resides in the House Ways and Means Committee, of which Blumenauer is a member.

Petri, who did not seek re-election in the fall, signed on as a co-sponsor this week.

Carper, who supports the bill, introduced a Senate amendment to a funding bill over the summer that would have increased fuel taxes by 12 cents per gallon over three years.

At a press event in Washington, D.C., the lawmakers stood with a cutout of the late President Reagan and played excerpts from a 1982 Thanksgiving Day speech in which Reagan spoke of the need to raise fuel taxes to pay for transportation infrastructure.

“Ronald Reagan supported raising the gas tax back in 1982 because he believed in funding American infrastructure in a responsible way. I think he was right, and it’s the best course of action we can take at this time,” Petri said.

“We all use our roads, bridges and rail, whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, rural or urban,” Blumenauer added. “Reagan also knew that the gas tax is actually a user fee, which means that those who use the roads the most are the ones paying for them.”

In his 1982 speech, Reagan called for a 5-cent increase in fuel taxes to maintain and expand federal-aid highways. House and Senate leaders joined him in supporting the measure, incorporating it into the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, or STAA, which was signed into law in January 1983.

“Common sense tells us that it’ll cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it crumble and then have to start all over again,” Reagan said in his historic speech.

“Good tax policy decrees that wherever possible a fee for a service should be assessed against those who directly benefit from that service,” Reagan had said. “Our highways were built largely with such a user fee – the gasoline tax. I think it makes sense to follow that principle in restoring them to the condition we all want them to be in.”

OOIDA supports fuel taxes as the fairest and most equitable way to pay for transportation and infrastructure programs, so long as the money stays with highways and bridges and is not diverted for other purposes.

The increases enacted in STAA were not the first or the last. The last increase occurred in 1993, when President Bill Clinton was in office, which set the rates at 18.4 cents for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel.

Sen. Carper joined Petri and Blumenauer in saying fuel taxes are the way to go.

“Ever since I had responsibility for a state transportation system as governor of Delaware, I’ve been convinced that user fees like the gas tax are the most efficient and fairest way to pay for infrastructure investments,” Carper said. “Both Congressman Petri and Congressman Blumenauer are leaders who carry clout on this issue, in particular, and I hope that their voices, along with the chorus of varied groups calling for passing and funding a long-term transportation bill, will get us that much closer to action in Congress.”

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined the lawmakers in calling for support for an increase.

See related story:
Fuel taxes, not mileage taxes, most appealing to truckers

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