President Donald Trump gave the idea of raising the federal gas tax a boost today, saying in an interview with Bloomberg News that raising the tax to fund infrastructure is “something that I would certainly consider.” So far this Congress, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) has introduced legislation to raise the federal gas tax, while fellow Oregonian and Ranking Member of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-4) introduced legislation to index the gas tax to inflation, but both bills have been expected to face an uphill climb. Despite the efforts of infrastructure advocates, raising the gas tax has long been viewed as a political non-starter in Washington, but with Congress beginning discussions on tax reform, many see an opportunity to fix the Highway Trust Fund (HTF).
The Highway Trust Fund is the main funding source for the federal government’s investments in highway and transit infrastructure and is primarily funded through the federal motor fuels tax (aka the ‘gas tax’) of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel. At the federal level, the gas tax has not been raised since 1993 and inflation has reduced its purchasing power by 40%. To make up for the dwindling value of the gas tax, Congress has transferred $140 billion from the General Fund to the HTF since 2008. Unless a solution is found, Congress will again have to transfer general funds to the HTF in 2020.
Decades of insufficient investment is clearly reflected in the state of our infrastructure. ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card graded the nation’s roads a “D,” bridges a “C+,” and transit a “D-.” The U.S. is on track to invest from federal, state, local, and private sources less than half what is needed in surface transportation over the next decade, leaving a $1.1 trillion gap. Failing to sufficiently invest in America’s deteriorating infrastructure will have a cascading impact on the nation’s economy, impacting business productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness, and, most importantly, public safety. If the surface transportation funding gap is not addressed, the U.S. will lose over $1.2 trillion in GDP and 1.1 million jobs by 2025.
In order to repair our nation’s roads, bridges, and transit, we must first fix the federal HTF. Addressing the HTF’s long-term solvency is a key part of closing the surface transportation investment gap. Over the past 30 years, all HTF revenue enhancements have been part of larger tax packages, so the current tax reform discussions present an ideal opportunity to #FixTheTrustFund.