Blumenauer Bill Would Raise Fuel Taxes; ATA’s Graves Touts Approach

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, held a press conference Feb. 4 to announce he has reintroduced the bill he put forth last year that would increase fuel taxes to pay for upgrading the nation’s aging transportation system.

The Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials, or UPDATE, Act, would add a nickel a year for three years to the existing 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax and the 24.4-cent diesel tax.

Under Blumenauer’s proposal, the fuel levies also would be indexed to inflation and Congress would “confirm” its intent to replace fuel taxes with what he said would be a “more equitable, stable source of funding” by 2024. The average motorist is paying about half as much per mile as she or he did in 1993, the last time the fuel tax was increased, the congressman said.

The bill, which has 20 bipartisan co-sponsors, has been referred to the Ways and Means panel. Blumenauer told reporters he is hopeful that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the committee’s chairman, will call the measure up before funding for highway programs runs out.

“Everyone agrees that America is falling apart and falling behind. We can’t afford the costs to American families, damage to their cars, cost of congestion, which is countless millions of hours stuck in traffic, and putting them at risk of unsafe road conditions. And putting them at risk in terms of their economic vitality because of the stranglehold that congestion has on the movement of freight and goods,” Blumenauer said Feb. 4.

Congress last summer temporarily extended the existing funding law, MAP-21, to save the federal Highway Trust Fund from insolvency. MAP-21 is the two-year surface transportation plan signed into law in 2012.

With the temporary extension projected to run out on May 31, congressional Republicans who control the House and Senate have yet to present a plan to boost highway dollars.

The top officials from leading transportation groups, such as American Trucking Associations, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the AFL-CIO, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, praised Blumenauer’s bill at an event on Capitol Hill on Feb. 4. They also pressed lawmakers to approve a long-term highway bill to pay for infrastructure investment.

“In trucking, our highways and our bridges are certainly an integral element in every facet of our daily lives. All freight modes play a valuable role in the economic lifeline of this country,” ATA President Bill Graves said.

“We’re sort of like the lost generation when it comes to our transportation infrastructure. We stop spending on the things that matter and then they start falling down. I think about that collapse of the bridge in Minnesota. That wasn’t a collapse of a bridge. That was a horrific picture of a country that has forgotten how to build things again and how to modernize its economy to make sure it keeps pace with its competitors around the world,” added Ed Wytkind, the head of the AFL-CIO’s transportation trades department. In 2007, the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis failed, killing 13 people.