Republicans and Democrats in the House this week proposed legislation that would raise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel in an effort to shore up the dwindling federal highway fund, and create a commission to explore other ways to boost that fund in the longer term.
But in a sign members might be worried about how to pitch the tax hike, they explained it as an increase in "user fees" in a press release Thursday.
"In order to sustain the trust fund in the near-term, the legislation indexes the gas and diesel user fees to inflation — raising roughly $27.5 billion and providing funding for our infrastructure needs for 1.7 years," they said.
Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) introduced the Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act with another Republican, Rep. Reid Ribble (Wis.), and two Democrats, Bill Pascrell (N.J.) and Dan Lipinski (Ill.). The bill is the latest attempt to boost the federal highway fund that members say will be empty in the next few months.
The bill again raises the question of whether Republicans will decide it's time to raise the gas tax, find other sources of new funding, or make cuts to other areas of the federal government. Many Republicans will balk at the idea of raising the gas tax, even as many others see it as a natural way to raise money.
For several years, members have also toyed with the idea of taxing cars based on how far they drive, although that proposal has failed to catch on with Republicans.
Those who argue for an increase in the gas tax say the federal government routinely falls several billion dollars short each year of highway funding, in part because more fuel-efficient cars are able to travel longer distances while using less gas. The bill's sponsors said that without more revenues, the government will be less able to pay for critical infrastructure projects.
"We refuse to pass on the liability of our deteriorating roads and bridges to our children and grandchildren," they said. "The longer we wait to fix our crumbling infrastructure, the more it will cost in the long-run."
The federal gas tax has been set at 18.4 cents for the last few decades. The bipartisan bill would start linking that tax, and the tax on diesel fuel, to inflation starting in 2016.
To find funding beyond the next few years, the bill would create a transportation commission aimed at finding a way to maintain a sustainable federal highway fund. Congress has had to raid other sources of funding to keep money in the highway fund, and in fact, the bill would force more money into the fund immediately.
Specifically, it would appropriate $16 billion in unobligated federal funds into the highway fund right away.
Republicans on the bill other than Renacci and Ribble are Mark Amodei (Nev.), Scott Rigell (Va.), Lou Barletta (Pa.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Bob Gibbs (Ohio) and Don Young (Alaska).