Editorial: House Hearings Spark Optimism

All of a sudden, it looks like lawmakers might be making good on the long-standing promise to get moving on what most agree is an issue with bipartisan support — yes, infrastructure funding.

Two concurrent hearings at the House of Representatives last week were focused on the issue, with executives from industries affected by freight transportation appearing on the panels. In one hearing, panelists included executives from American Trucking Associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Society of Civil Engineers, to name a few. And among them, there was broad agreement that an increase in fuel taxes is a good way to help fund the nation’s much-needed infrastructure improvements. We tend to agree, and believe that a gradual increase in fuel-tax rates is a simple way to help pay for work most everyone agrees must be done, and which most everyone agrees needs a fresh boost of revenue. (The clock toward the feared insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund just keeps ticking.)

Stakeholders’ preferred approaches differ. ATA supports a plan that would at the wholesale level add five cents per gallon annually over four years, while other groups support an increase to the current federal taxes drivers pay.

We understand that the notion of new and/or higher taxes is unpopular. But think for a moment about the fluctuations at your local fueling station. Prices frequently move up and down, and often by more than the five-cents-per-year rates backed by both ATA and ASCE. Arguably, no one would feel any real financial effects from such an increase; it would be easily absorbed, and could — if properly allocated — begin paying immediate dividends in terms of road improvements.

More than half of the states in the country already have taken action, boosting their own fuel-tax rates to raise money for improvements on the local scale. That this many state governments have seen clear to take the politically risky step of raising a tax should embolden federal legislators to follow suit. Higher taxes are unpopular until people start seeing the benefits. Whether it’s an easier commute to work or a smoother trip to make a delivery, better roads and bridges are tangible things that can improve drivers’ lives. It’s a good goal to reach for. Let’s hope this fresh burst of attention from lawmakers leads to action soon.