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Raise the Gas Tax Already

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Raise the Gas Tax Already

Representative Earl Blumenauer
Congressional Record: 114th Congress
July 28, 2015

[Page: H5527]


   The SPEAKER pro tempore. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Blumenauer) for 5 minutes.

   Mr. BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, for the last 3 years, I have been coming to the floor, arguing against the folly of our attempting to pay for 2015 infrastructure with 1993 dollars.

   We haven't adjusted the gas tax since 1993, and that is why we haven't given the American people a 6-year, robust reauthorization of the surface transportation system since 1998.

   I find myself today in complete agreement with a column by James Surowiecki in the current issue of The New Yorker. It is entitled ``Raise the Gas Tax Already.''

   He talks about how what is going on in the other body might be perceived as progress, might be a good thing, `` `real progress,' except for one thing: their complicated, jury-rigged plan is only

[Page: H8528]

necessary because of the continued refusal by Congress to embrace the obvious, economically sensible solution to highway funding, namely raising the gas tax. The federal gas tax is, as it should be, a key source of funding for highway spending.'' Locked currently at 18.4 cents:

   ``The problem is that the funding mechanisms the plan relies on are as gimmicky and haphazard as ever. The bill would raise money by, among other things, lowering the dividend rate paid to banks in the Federal Reserve system, raising certain customs fees, increasing collection rates on unpaid taxes, and selling off a hundred and one million barrels of oil from the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.''

   ``If you're going to have a Strategic Petroleum Reserve, you should probably only sell oil from it for strategic reasons, not just because you want to raise some cash.''

   ``And, from an economic perspective, paying for operating expenses by selling off assets is not a good way to manage your money.''

   ``What's especially infuriating about the bill is that we already have, in the gas tax, an ideal tool for raising money to pay for highway repairs. It's a user tax: if you don't drive, you don't pay it, and if you drive less it costs you less.''

   ``That's why even conservative economists, like Gregory Mankiw ..... have been ardent advocates of gasoline taxes.''

   ``Indeed, the refusal of Congress to raise the gas tax is the ultimate expression of how reflexive and irrational the resistance to taxes has become. Opposition to higher income taxes has some theoretical justification: higher marginal rates discourage people from working more and investing. Seen in one light, they're a penalty for success. But no such argument exists against the gas tax: all it does, in essence, is ask drivers to pay for the roads they use. It's not even fair to say that keeping this tax at its current level is a check on big government, since most federal highway spending now goes toward rebuilding and repairing roads--maintenance that even conservatives recognize we must do.

   ``Highway revenue has to be raised somehow. Congress should show some political spine, discard the Rube Goldberg funding schemes, and stop treating all taxes as bad ones.''

   I couldn't agree more with that sentiment. Indeed, we have seen six Republican States already this year show some political spine. They have raised the gas tax in Idaho, Utah, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Georgia.

   It is time for us to assume our responsibilities, to rebuild and renew America, that used to have the finest infrastructure in the world, but now is locked into a downward spiral.

   Renewing and rebuilding America, giving a 6-year, robust reauthorization bill will put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work in a matter of months all across the country, and it will make all our families safer, healthier, and more economically secure. 

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