Raise Gas Taxes Temporarily for Highway Trust Fund, Shuster Says

July 25, 2018 Shaun Courtney

A plan to raise the gas tax before phasing it out with a new revenue source to shore up the Highway Trust Fund is the parting gift that outgoing House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) wants to leave for his fellow Republicans.

Shuster released his infrastructure legislative framework Monday night and included in it provisions to raise the gas tax by 15 cents, the diesel tax by 20 cents, and then to eliminate the tax by 2028. Shuster would replace the gas tax with new user fees—including a vehicle-miles-traveled program to feed the highway fund, as well as taxes on electric vehicle batteries and bike tires among other road users. The Highway Trust Fund will become insolvent in 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“The No. 1 priority is fixing the trust fund,” he told reporters after a speech at the Aero Club of Washington. “The House controlled by the GOP, the Congress, and the White House have to deal with this funding issue.”

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., speaks during a panel discussion.

Shuster warned fellow Republicans that the trust fund insolvency will begin hitting in states by the spring of 2020, and it could have negative impacts on their re-election prospects if they fail to address the main federal revenue source for funding roads, bridges, transit and more.

“It’s going to be a hell of a thing,” he said.

Business Groups, Industry React

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised Shuster’s proposal. The Chamber previously proposed a gas tax increase of 25 cents when the White House was first assembling an infrastructure proposal.

“We urge lawmakers to get together and start considering some of these ideas more seriously,” Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation and infrastructure for the Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “Infrastructure modernization is never going to be easy, so there’s no better time to have this debate.”

The Business Roundtable took a similar approach, urging lawmakers to give “serious consideration” to proposals to shore up the Highway Trust Fund, in a statement from Mike Burke, chairman of the Business Roundtable’s Infrastructure Committee.

Not everyone was pleased. Shuster proposed eliminating the current 17-cent partial fuel tax exemption for motor coaches, which would also then see its gas tax increased by 20 cents for an overall increase of 37 cents a gallon, American Bus Association President & CEO Peter Pantuso said in a statement.

“I’m not entirely sure why the Chairman chose this course when our industry provides the most economical form of public transportation for so many travelers, commuters and students alike,” Pantuso said.

Next Up?

The next leader of the House transportation committee will lead the charge for both a Highway Trust Fund solution as well as an update to the surface transportation law, the FAST Act (Pub. L. No. 114-94), which is set to expire in 2020 along with the health of the highway fund.

Of the two competing for the panel’s gavel—Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.)—Shuster said he won’t choose one over the other, but said he wants them to find a long-term fix.

“There’s only two guys running. Both solid,” he said.

Whoever leads the House committee will find at least one backer in the Senate on long-term solutions for the Highway Trust Fund and FAST Act: Appropriations transportation subcommittee Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“For the long-term funding infrastructure necessary for our nation’s transportation infrastructure, I want to strongly encourage the administration to work with the authorizing committees to provide that long-term sustainable funding for transportation before the FAST Act expires at the end of fiscal year 2020,” Collins said on the floor Tuesday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com; John R. Kirkland at jkirkland@bgov.com

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