Partisanship Threatens Action on Highway Bill

Congress’s partisan divide over tax increases is jeopardizing action on a long-term highway bill, raising the risk that the U.S. will run out of money to pay for projects next year, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. A compromise measure that used general tax revenue to keep highway construction going expires on Sept. 30, and Congress’s research arm has said lawmakers can no longer delay broader action.

However, lawmakers are skeptical that Congress will take on a comprehensive highway bill that includes an increase to the fuel tax, which many groups, including NATSO, support.

“Based on the performance of the Senate over the last three years, a six-year highway bill is a pretty big expectation,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said in an interview. “These discussions are important to have, but I don’t have any real faith at this point that they lead in a direction that produces a long-term result on highways.”

In 2012, proposals to fund roads, bridges and mass transit for six years sputtered over bipartisan opposition to raising the U.S. gasoline tax, Businessweek reported. Several groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest business lobby, are working to prevent a repeat of the last discussions. 

In addition, the bipartisan coalition America's Infrastructure Alliance, of which NATSO is a member, is calling for a renewed investment in the country's infrastructure. "Our forefathers when they wrote the constitution, certainly understood this connection between the federal government, the national economy, and transportation systems," said Jeff Loveng, CEO and chairman of the alliance. 

Transportation groups, including NATSO, AAA and the American Trucking Associations, have been asking Congress to increase the fuel tax over the last several years.

“Our federal fuel tax rate has been shrinking for decades,” said Lisa Mullings, president and chief executive officer of NATSO. “Since 1993, inflation has eroded the buying power of those 18.4 cents to just 11 cents. Another failure to act by Congress will hurt businesses, particularly those based on our nation's highways. The alternatives to a higher federal fuel tax, such as interstate tolling and rest-area commercialization, will be detrimental to businesses that serve interstate travelers." 

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on Dec. 4 to increase the federal fuel tax 15-cents per gallon over three years.  Rep. Blumenauer also proposes a study into mileage-based fees to fund transportation. However, Blumenauer said actually getting a gas tax increase, especially with midterm elections next year, would be a difficult task.

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
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