“The immediate danger has passed,” says Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division. “But it certainly is right there on the surface.” Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president for government affairs, adds that “the whole notion [of a fuel-tax suspension] is on the table. I think it could come up at any time....I think Congress wants to provide some sort of relief to the motoring public.”

Industry did breathe a bit easier on April 25, when a proposed amendment from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to suspend the fuels tax for 60 days failed on a procedural point of order.

But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), noting at a May 2 press conference that lawmakers have proposed moratoriums, said that the cost of a fuel-levy suspension could be offset by cutting an estimated $6.5 billion in oil company relief from a pending tax bill. “We would take those tax benefits and return them to the American people,” Reid says. “We can get by [with] about two and a half months of not charging the federal tax.”

The federal tax now is 18.4¢ per gallon for gasoline and 24.4¢ for diesel. Construction groups say a moratorium would drain about $3 billion a month from the trust fund. Deery says that even if the tax were suspended, “There’s no guarantee that the price of gasoline’s going to come down 18¢ tomorrow.”

Industry executives plan a May 17-18 “fly-in” to Washington to lobby Congress. When visits were scheduled weeks ago, a key issue was ensuring funding levels in last year’s SAFETEA-LU measure be turned into appropriations. Now, the fight against a fuels-tax moratorium has become a big topic, Deery says.

Jack Basso, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ director of management and business development, says a tax suspension is probably far less of a threat after the Menendez proposal’s defeat. He says that Republicans also seem to be leaning away from the idea. “Nonetheless, my view is you’ve got to watch this thing on a daily basis,” Basso adds.


s gasoline prices climb higher above $3 per gallon, Congress is scurrying to do something to soothe angry motorists. What most worries the construction industry is that some lawmakers want to suspend the federal motor fuels tax temporarily. Construction groups argue that would slice Highway Trust Fund revenue and hurt road building. So far industry officials have fought off one Senate fuels-tax moratorium plan, but are staying vigilant.