June 19, 2014
CBS News - The timing might seem a bit dubious, considering it's the height of the U.S. driving season, and Americans are dealing with both geopolitical turmoil and the upcoming midterm elections.
But two senators have come up with a bipartisan idea to fund the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), an important part of America's infrastructure system, by raising federal taxes at the gas pump for the first time in more than 20 years.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) unveiled their proposal on Wednesday.
It calls for increasing federal gasoline and diesel taxes by 12 cents, via a six-cent hike in each of the next two years (they're currently set at 18.4 cents and 24.4 cents, respectively, where they've been since 1993). Those increases would be offset by tax cuts, or perhaps by permanently extending some other provisions in the bipartisan "tax extenders" bill.
In a joint statement, the senators noted the federal HTF, which supplies more than half of the nation's budget for transportation projects, will begin to run out of cash by mid-July.
Allowing the HTF to run empty, they said, would not only halt construction on any new transportation projects but also "create a $50 billion hole in states' 2015 transportation budgets and a $160 billion hole in state budgets over the next decade if left unaddressed."
Both senators acknowledged their plan isn't an easy or popular choice, but it's a necessary one.
"For too long, Congress has shied away from taking serious action to update our country's aging infrastructure," said Sen. Murphy. "We're currently facing a transportation crisis that will only get worse if we don't take bold action to fund the Highway Trust Fund."
"By modestly raising the federal gas tax," he continued, "we can address a crippling economic liability for this country -- the inability to finance long-term improvements to our crumbling national infrastructure."
Sen. Corker criticized the Washington lawmakers' mindset, in which "we huff and puff about paying for proposals that are unpopular, yet throw future generations under the bus when public pressure mounts on popular proposals that have broad support."
"If Americans feel that having modern roads and bridges is important ," he added, "then Congress should have the courage to pay for it."
A recent AAA survey says 52 percent of Americans would be willing to pay higher fuel taxes for improvements in their roads, bridges and mass transit systems. And AAA President and CEO Bob Darbelnet endorsed the Corker-Murphy proposal, calling it "a commonsense and fiscally responsible plan to improve roads, bridges and transit systems nationwide."
"It has been 20 years since Congress increased the federal fuel tax," he noted, "and it is time for our leaders to show the courage necessary to do what is right."