DALLAS — Almost doubling the federal gasoline tax to 35.4 cents per gallon would go a long way toward providing the transportation infrastructure needed for a 21st century economy, according to a coalition of local civic, business, and elected leaders proposing a new highway funding plan.
The Transportation for America alliance said the $30 billion a year of additional revenue from the 92% tax increase would enable Congress to extend the current highway funding law set to expire on Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2014. It would also ensure the solvency of the highway trust fund and provide funding for local transportation initiatives.
The proposal outlined by the group on Tuesday is based on a 17-cent per gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax from the current 18.4 cents, a gain of more than 90%.
Other options in the plan include eliminating the tax entirely in favor of a nationwide 11% sales tax on fuel, or indexing the gasoline tax to highway construction costs and introducing a $4 per barrel tariff on imported crude oil.
Congress must not only rescue the sinking HTF but also raise enough revenue to help fund efforts by local governments to unplug traffic bottlenecks and fix broken bridges, said Will Schroeer, director of infrastructure for economic development at both the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Local business leaders recognize that the right transportation infrastructure is a matter of economic life or death," Schroeer said at Tuesday's unveiling of the plan. "But we know we can't go it alone, so it's important to join with leaders from other communities to ensure that we have a strong federal partner."
The two-year Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) transportation funding law passed in 2012 by Congress provided $105 billion for surface transportation projects but required a $19 billion transfer from the general fund to the federal highway trust fund to keep it solvent. The law will expire on Sept. 30. The Congressional Budget Office predicted the HTF will not have sufficient resources in fiscal 2015 to meet all its obligations without additional transfers.
The CBO said it would take $320 billion over the next six years to keep highway funding at fiscal 2013 levels, but revenues are expected to total only $240 billion.
Transportation funding should be a bipartisan issue, said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans.
"Transportation investments make common sense, "Morial said. "It's something that all of us, people from all parts of the political spectrum should be able to agree on."
James Corless, director of Transportation for America, said the group will maintain its campaign for transportation funding.
"Under deadline to renew the federal transportation program and save the highway trust fund from insolvency in 2014, congressional leaders have said they want to hear from ordinary communities, and local civic and business leaders," he said. "Our alliance will make sure they hear from even more communities going forward."