The Senate Republican co-sponsoring a proposal to raise the national tax on motor fuels called a bill that would provide a short-term boost for a cash-strapped federal highway account a “complete sham,” signaling the lack of GOP support for the legislation ahead of its June 26 committee consideration. (UPDATE: Senate panel drops truck tax, postpones vote)
Tennessee Republican Bob Corker said “Americans should be outraged and reject” a bill Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) unveiled on June 24 that proposes $9 billion for the Highway Trust Fund through the end of the year.
“We can either pay for this responsibly or shut down the road program until there is enough money in the fund,” Corker said, referring to the trust fund.
Wyden’s bill does not propose raising the gas tax to boost the trust fund, which is Corker’s plan. Instead, the chairman’s bill would increase a tax on heavy trucks, tweak the distribution of inherited retirement accounts for individuals, and mandate the Department of State to deny a passport to any person with delinquent tax debts greater than $50,000, according to the committee’s summary of the legislation.
In an interview with Transport Topics, Wyden said he would work with Sens. Corker and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) to “see what support we can build” for their plan.
“They indicated informally some rough ideas but that’s why we have opened the process,” Wyden said, noting he expects Republicans to propose several amendments at the June 26 legislative hearing. This month Corker and Murphy proposed increasing the gas and diesel taxes by 6 cents each year for the next two years as a way to guarantee long-term funding source for the trust fund. Using the Consumer Price Index guidelines, the increases would be indexed to inflation.
Wyden added that if the trust fund’s highway account is allowed to dip below the critical $4 billion funding level, it would be the “transportation equivalent of a government shutdown, and we know what happened with that.”
According to Department of Transportation projections, the highway account could fall below $4 billion as early as July 18, putting at risk hundreds of thousands of jobs around the country and states’ ability to address road, rail and transit projects, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said June 20. State Transportation departments are reimbursed millions of dollars daily from the trust fund for investments in highway and transit projects.