A proposal to increase the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax by 15 cents per gal. made it into a wide-ranging deficit-cutting plan developed by a presidentially created commission.
But the future of the gas-tax proposal and the other recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is up in the air. The plan fell three votes short of the 14-vote supermajority needed to formally submit the report.
Still, commission members who gathered for the voting session in a Senate hearing room sounded upbeat notes that elements of the plan, contained in a final report, titled "The Moment of Truth". would be part of future debates over the federal budget.
One commission member who voted for the report, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), said that the panel has made an impact. "We've changed the conversation in the country."
He added, "This is not the end of the story....This [report] is going to be read again. These chapters are going to be reopened."
Another panel member who endorsed the report, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), said the fact that the proposals didn't win 14 "yes" votes "should not be an indication that there is not powerful support behind this plan and the need for Congress to engage."
Crapo said that the 11 votes are a signal that the deficit-reduction recommendations could win the majority needed to get them approved in Congress.
For construction and transportation groups the key part of the report is Recommendation 1.7:
"The Commission recommends gradually increasing the per gallon gas tax by 15 cents between 2013 and 2015. Congress must limit spending from trust funds to the level of dedicated revenues from the previous year. Before asking taxpayers to pay more for roads, rail, bridges, and infrastructure, we must ensure existing funds are not wasted. The Commission recommends significant reforms to control federal highway spending. Congress should limit trust fund spending to the most pressing infrastructure needs rather than forcing states to fund low-priority projects. It should also end the practice of highway authorization earmarks such as the infamous Bridge to Nowhere."
Twenty-one construction, transportation and labor-union organizations hailed the recommendation.
The real "moment of truth" for the proposed gas-tax increase--and the rest of the commission's recommendations--will come on Capitol Hill, if Congress decides to consider them.
White House administrations and Congress have resisted raising the gas tax for years. In fact, the levy has not seen an increase since 1993.
The Obama administration and many in Congress have continued to oppose a boost in the tax.
With Republicans taking over the House in January and increasing their numbers in the Senate, their strong opposition to tax increases of any type will make a hike in the fuel levy an even longer shot in 2011 than it has been this year.