Commentary: Six Solutions to Move Beyond Threats to the Gas Tax
On the heels of President Obama’s announcement of his new jobs proposal, largely centered around infrastructure investments, and still reeling from the impact of the recent debt ceiling battle, it’s time for Congress and the rest of America to brace themselves for another big battle. It’s one that is sure to incite the “no tax under any circumstances” sentiment that has swept the nation courtesy of the Tea Party and will have large implications for each of us.
On September 30, the federal gas tax, currently at 18.4 cents per gallon, is scheduled to expire. And if it is not renewed, there will be serious implications, not the least of which will be an assured increase in the number of unemployed.
Increasing the gas tax to help fund much-needed infrastructure repairs should be common sense. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in Congress recently, common sense does not always rule the day. Those elected officials are already holding an important transportation bill hostage. I fear that a new fight over the federal gas tax will further take our national eye off the more important goal of remediating our aging and failing infrastructure system.
If the gas tax is allowed to expire on September 30, the nation’s transportation system could spiral into its final death throes. In fact, it’s a very real possibility that without an extension, federal and state highway programs will come to a halt.
Here are some low- or no deficit-enhancing ideas for Congress to ponder as the gas tax deadline looms.
1. Raise the gas tax and reform it based on miles traveled. The gas tax hasn’t been increased in almost 20 years and is based on usage measured by the gallon instead of on the number of miles driven. The introduction of more fuel-efficient cars, albeit a good thing, means many drivers are paying less than their fair share for highway maintenance. We need to use the latest technology to more evenly allocate a highway-use tax that places more of the burden on those who are the heavy users, possibly taxing drivers based on vehicle miles traveled (or VMT) rather than on the amount of gas they use.
2. Create jobs by repairing the nearly 8,000 U.S. bridges in danger of collapse. According to the Federal Highway Administration, we have 7,980 bridges in the U.S. that are both structurally deficient and fracture critical. This means they all are in danger of collapsing.