President Obama told chief executives Dec. 3 he doubts congressional leaders will be able to advance a long-term comprehensive transportation measure next year, approving instead a short-term highway funding fix.
The president explained the short-term transportation fix would advance either as stand-alone legislation or as part of a broader tax overhaul GOP leaders plan to propose after the next Congress convenes in January.
When asked by FedEx CEO Fred Smith why his administration and Congress would not agree to raise the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per-gallon as a way to boost infrastructure dollars, Obama said, “Votes on gas tax are really tough.”
“The question is going to be, is there a formula long term for us to get a dedicated revenue source for funding the infrastructure that we need, that is not so politically frightening to members of Congress that is reliable,” Obama told the CEOs at a forum hosted by the Business Roundtable in Washington. “The gas tax hasn’t been increased for 20 years. There’s a reason for that.”
The president added, “It’s probably a good time for us to redesign and think through how, what is a sustainable way for us on a regular basis to make the investments we need. … We've got to figure this out.”
Earlier in the day, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Tom Petri (R-Wis.) hosted a press event on Capitol Hill to urge colleagues to approve a gas tax increase. Blumenauer, a member of the tax-writing panel in the House, argued that such an increase would ensure long-term funding for highway programs at a time when federal dollars are limited.
But Congress is unlikely to consider a highway policy bill, or raise the gas tax during the post-election lame-duck session. GOP leaders, however, stressed they plan to reauthorize a surface transportation law in the spring. They have offered no other details about that.
Currently, the gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, and the diesel tax is 24.4 cents. The Department of Transportation relies on the Highway Trust Fund to reimburse states for certain infrastructure projects. The fund takes in revenue from fuel taxes. Improvements in fuel efficiency have cut significantly into that funding source.