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Two senators (one of whom is a Republican!) propose a 12-cent gas tax increase

There are several proposals on the table to stave off the impending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (which pays for transit, biking, and walking projects too) in two months. Just now, two senators teamed up to announce one that might actually have a chance.

Photo from the Office of Senator Corker.

Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) have proposed increasing the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon over two years. The federal gas tax currently stands at 18.4 cents a gallon, where it has been set since 1993, when gas cost $1.16 a gallon. The senators' proposal would also extend some expiring tax cuts as a way to reduce the impact on Americans.

"I know raising the gas tax isn't an easy choice, but we're not elected to make easy decisions—we're elected to make the hard ones," said Murphy. "This modest increase will pay dividends in the long run and I encourage my colleagues to get behind this bipartisan proposal."

This proposal—while still not introduced as a formal bill—has far more potential than anything else that's been offered. President Obama's corporate tax scheme was dead on arrival, even though it had support from the Republican chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp. Rep. Peter DeFazio's idea of a per-barrel oil fee and Sen. Barbara Boxer's idea for a wholesale oil tax don't have Republican support. Neither does Rep. Earl Blumenauer's 15-cent gas tax hike, which was the most logical proposal on the table, until now. What the House Republicans want to do is fund the transportation bill by reducing Saturday postal servicea hare-brained scheme if ever there was one.

What gives this proposal a fighting chance, of course, is Bob Corker's name on it. Not only is Corker a Republican, but he's a respected leader on the Banking Committee. It's also a sign that maybe, just maybe, as we stare down the barrel of a real funding shortfall, members of Congress might find the gumption to do what they all know needs to be done: raise the gas tax.

"In Washington, far too often, we huff and puff about paying for proposals that are unpopular, yet throw future generations under the bus when public pressure mounts on popular proposals that have broad support," said Corker. "Congress should be embarrassed that it has played chicken with the Highway Trust Fund and allowed it to become one of the largest budgeting failures in the federal government. If Americans feel that having modern roads and bridges is important then Congress should have the courage to pay for it."

The CBO has said that a one-cent increase in the gas tax would net $1.5 billion a year. That means this 12-cent increase would bring in exactly the $18 billion needed annually to fund the Senate's six-year transportation bill. And perhaps most importantly, Corker and Murphy propose indexing the tax to inflation so it remains viable in the future.

"A return to stable funding will ensure that our states and communities can repair aging roads, bridges and transit systems and build the infrastructure we need for a growing economy," said James Corless, director of Transportation for America, in a statement. "The alternative is to allow our transportation system to crumble along with an economy hobbled by crapshoot commutes and clogged freight corridors."

The president and CEO of AAA, which just came out in favor of a gas tax increase, agreed. "Many Americans are willing to pay a little more if it will lead to improved transportation and a better commute," said Bob Darbelnet in a statement.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog USA.

Tanya Snyder is the former editor of Streetsblog USA, which covers issues of national transportation policy. She previously covered Congress for Pacifica and public radio. She lives car-free in a transit-oriented and bike-friendly neighborhood of Washington, DC. 


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I'd say the one off rebate on corporate repatriations has a beter chance than a 12 cent gas tax.

That being said, it is a small step towards sanity. Making sure the gas tax is spent on automobiles in another. Getting rid of the highway trust fund would be best move.

by charlie on Jun 18, 2014 2:01 pm • linkreport

Long overdue, but 'im not terribly hopeful.

by BTA on Jun 18, 2014 2:01 pm • linkreport

+1 BTA: raising the fuel tax by 12 cents is long overdue, but I'm not hopeful either - even though no one would notice if not for the fact that it would be trumpeted to the heavens by anti-taxers.

Gas prices bounce around; they've increased by 40 cents a gallon thus far this year, and will probably go down by more than 12 cents sometime later this year.

There are gas stations within a couple of miles of my house whose prices vary by more than 12 cents a gallon; if everyone were so concerned about a few cents a gallon, that situation couldn't persist.

by John Henry Holliday on Jun 18, 2014 3:26 pm • linkreport

I'm guessing Boehner and the House Republicans will say no way.

by aaa on Jun 18, 2014 3:28 pm • linkreport

Aaa- they will likely only need a few to defect if push comes to shove.

by h st ll on Jun 18, 2014 3:46 pm • linkreport

This is a logical proposition, and thus has no chance at passing through Congress.

by Chase on Jun 18, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

Heritage Foundation's view:

Short version: take it out of mass transit and cycling.

by jeffb on Jun 18, 2014 4:23 pm • linkreport

Does anyone take them seriously? I mean even the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable don't care so much for Heritage anymore.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2014 4:31 pm • linkreport

We've been without a car since October. I have no idea what the price of gas is now.

by 202_Cyclist on Jun 18, 2014 4:45 pm • linkreport

Heritage is a sad, sad shadow of its former self.

by Crickey7 on Jun 18, 2014 4:52 pm • linkreport

This is easily the best gas-tax-related news I've heard in a very long time.

by 6357 on Jun 18, 2014 5:52 pm • linkreport

Thank you Senator Corker for sponsoring this bill. As a Tennessee voter, I appreciate your sponsorship, and hope your leadership can see the bill passed.

by Robert Robinson on Jun 18, 2014 6:19 pm • linkreport

I always love all of the crying and gnashing of teeth over raising the gas tax by a dime or two over several years when the price of gas can go up a quarter over a weekend and basically no one bats an eye.

by TomA on Jun 18, 2014 11:22 pm • linkreport

Senator Corker is one of the good ones (I'm a Republican), and this proposal makes a lot of sense.

The crazy thing, however, has to do with Congressional budgeting rules (the same rules that would allow the end of Saturday mail delivery to "count" for funding highway projects). The Corker-Murphy proposal is being touted as "revenue-neutral" because in addition to funding highway projects, the gas tax increase will also be scored as offsetting the permanent renewal of now-temporary "tax extenders." In essence, they can double-count the new revenue.

The whole thing is a charade, in my opinion, but at least this charade arrives at a logical conclusion: a reasonable, ostensibly-permanent user tax to fund transportation, and some permanent tax policy extension to bring more economic certainty.

by John on Jun 19, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

I actually think proposal would have a good chance of passing were it not for two problems. 1) Nothing will happen in Congress between now and the November elections, 2) Once the Republicans get the majority in Senate (very likely at this point), there will be a new set of priorities and they won't be bi-partisan. They'll have about a six month honeymoon period where they can try to ram through whatever they can before we're back to nothing significant happening in the runup to 2016 elections.

by Falls Church on Jun 19, 2014 11:44 am • linkreport

A better system, used by some states, is to tax annual mileage, found at annual reregistration. This brings in a share from electrics and hybrids.

by Cal Herrmann on Jun 19, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

Raising the gas tax is good but the automatic increases (even based on inflation) is the monster creation that'll haunt us down the road.

by TC on Jun 20, 2014 9:23 am • linkreport

Who are the real beneficiaries of better roads....Auto Industry, Petroleum, Insurance, even Corporate America and Business benefit by making commute and travel easier. So why don't they pay for it - why must the consumer? I mean 12% on petroleum's "Record Profits" seems like a wise re-investment of capital.

by StariVojnik on Jun 20, 2014 12:43 pm • linkreport

Getting rid of the highway trust fund would be best move.

why exactly?

by Jack Jackson on Jun 20, 2014 4:21 pm • linkreport

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