Congress is searching for a way to fund the Highway Trust Fund and an increase in the gas tax is the preferred method in the Senate. Utah [mc_name name=’Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’H000338′ ] (endorsed by Mark Levin, motto “never count your Hatches before they chicken”) has said that he opposes taxes but he considers the gas tax to be a “user fee.”
“I prefer not to increase taxes but to me that’s a user fee,” said Hatch, a Republican, adding: “People who use the highways ought to pay for them. And that’s a small price to pay to have the best highway system in the world.”
John Thune, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee also seems to be on board with the tax increase idea:
Top Republicans in the Senate, including incoming Transportation Committee Chairman [mc_name name=’Sen. John Thune (R-SD)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’T000250′ ] (R-S.D.), have indicated a willingness this week to at least consider increasing the gas tax as a potential solution to a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be as high as $16 billion per year.
“I don’t favor increasing any tax. But I think we have to look at all options,” Thune said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
For the time being, anyway, Speaker [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ] is making pleasing noises (this may be part of his “most anti-establishment Speaker in the history of the Universe” campaign):
Speaker [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ] (R-Ohio) on Thursday signaled that he is opposed to increasing the federal gas tax to help pay for new transportation projects.
Lawmakers in the Senate, including a couple of high-profile Republicans, this week indicated an openness to increasing the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax for the first time in more than two decades in the face of rapidly declining prices at the pump.
Boehner suggested he does not support the idea of asking drivers to pay more, even though he said passing a new highway bill would be a “priority” for GOP leaders this year.“I’ve never voted to raise the gas tax,” the Speaker said during a press conference on Capitol Hill.
“A highway bill is critically important,” Boehner continued. “It’s a priority for this year. How we’ll fund it … We are going to have to work our way through this.”
I don’t put much faith in any statement that seems to oppose a tax increase but concludes with the notion that more money needs to be found. The two ideas rather run contrary to each other.
Some highway spending is necessary. Whether the utter porkfest that is the Highway Bill is necessary is a different question. The bottom line is that the more money that is pumped into the Highway Trust fund the more that will be spent. If states want to increase their gasoline taxes to fund infrastructure that is their call. Whether Texas drivers should be funding Bridges to Nowhere is a different on.
How the House handles this issue will tell us a lot about how what we can expect in the way of fiscal prudence in the next Congress.