More voices in support of raising fuel taxes as a means to fund the nation’s attention-starved highways came this week at a Senate committee held to discuss creation of the next highway reauthorization bill.
Representatives from both big business and labor unions told members of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee that the ability for the U.S. to continue to compete competitively on a global level and many jobs depend on Congress’ ability to upkeep roads, and both said increasing diesel and gas tax is an obvious way to do that.
The American Trucking Associations has long been a proponent of raising fuel taxes as a means to better fund roads and ensure greater stability with the U.S.’ Highway Trust Fund.
At the Senate hearing this week, the heads of the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO joined ATA in pushing for the increase and in pushing Congress toward putting politics aside to pass the next highway bill.
Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said he knows Washington will make the reauthorization of highway funding “a difficult fight,” he told the committee, “but it doesn’t have to be.”
“There is a broad consensus on a number of fundamental principles,” he said, calling the transportation system “a critical national asset” that drives mobility and trade – and one that is running out of money. “When you look at the big picture, the simplest, most effective way to generate enough revenue is by increasing federal gasoline and diesel taxes.”
Preserving the “user pays” system by phasing in moderate fuel tax increases should be politically acceptable, he said, pointing to six states in the U.S. that already have increased fuel taxes. Moreover, those six states’ governors are evenly split between Republican and Democrat, Donohue said.
“Let’s start by having some courage, and showing some leadership,” Donohue said. “For once, let’s do what right not what’s politically expedient.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also pushed Congress to produce a long-term highway bill, saying there are still 1.6 million fewer construction jobs now than before the recession.
He also said ignoring the problem — especially with austerity measures — won’t make it go away, but instead will cost the country more in the long term.
“Delaying infrastructure investments will cost us more in the long run, not less,” he said. “The facts have been studied, reported and discussed to death. The highway trust fund is at a crossroads. Failure to act will mean the transportation system will decay further. To be blunt, we can’t bury our heads in the sand.”
Pete Ruane, president of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, said a lack of investment in U.S. highways puts the trucking industry at risk, citing the $11 trillion in goods moved by truck each year. “We believe the public would be impressed and would widely support this federal program if they new the full story,” he said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the committee hopes to produce a bill by April, but the Senate Finance Committee must render final committee decision on the bill, since it allocates funding.