WASHINGTON — A coalition of 27 transportation, labor, and other groups are urging lawmakers drafting climate and energy legislation that could impose a carbon tax on gasoline to ensure any resulting tax revenue would be funneled into the highway trust fund instead of other programs.

The groups sent a letter April 1 to Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asking them to draft legislation that "retains the long-standing principle of dedicating revenues derived from transportation motor fuels to improving the nation's highway and public transportation systems."

Gasoline could make up a large part of the carbon tax, since its use accounts for about 21% of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Carbon Tax Center.

The highway trust fund relies on gasoline and diesel fuel taxes primarily for its revenue. The revenue is then used to pay for highway, bridge, and transit projects at the state and local level, often in conjunction with or as security for municipal debt.

Driving-related tax revenue has been deposited into the trust fund since the early days of the national interstate highway system.

But the trust fund, which has suffered continuous shortfalls in revenue, has received several transfers of general funds and a restoration of its ability to earn interest on its balance to prevent highway projects from shutting down.

Lawmakers and interest groups have proposed an array of new ideas for funding that would supplement the current revenue system. Many have supported a simple increase in the existing gas tax as well.

But climate legislation that is being drafted in the Senate should not create a new carbon tax on gasoline without ensuring that it won't harm viability of a new multi-year transportation bill, the groups argued.

"Enacting a new transportation bill quickly will be very difficult, if not impossible, should Congress approve legislation that diverts revenue from carbon-based fees from motor fuels away from the transportation investment," the letter said. "Any proposal to divert user fees from motor fuels while our roads, bridges, and transit systems are neglected is not sound policy."

The letter also was sent to chairmen and ranking members of Senate committees involved in drafting a multi-year transportation bill.

The groups that signed the letter include the National Association of Counties, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the American Public Transportation Association, and the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, all of which represent or are affiliated with muni bond issuers.

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