The Highway Trust Fund, which plays a central role in financing U.S. infrastructure projects, is financed through a federal gas tax. It’s been a pretty effective system, at least up until recently – the current tax hasn’t changed in more than two decades, and as a result, American investment in infrastructure has fallen to its lowest point since 1947. Making matters slightly worse, the Highway Trust Fund is on track to run out of money in May.
The simple, efficient, and painfully obvious solution is to approve an overdue increase to the gas tax – with prices at the pump already having plummeted, this is an ideal time – which would bolster the fund, boost investments, and help both the economy and our infrastructure, which even Republicans concede is currently “on life support.”
Indeed, while Democratic support for an overdue gas-tax increase comes as no surprise, some conservative GOP lawmakers also agree that we don’t have much of a choice.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nevertheless killed the idea at a Capitol Hill press conference this morning:
Q: Gas taxes are historically low… Is this the right time to consider increasing the gas tax?BOEHNER: I’ve never voted to raise the gas tax. Funding a highway bill is critically important. It’s a priority for this year. How we’ll fund it, we’re going to have to work our way through this. […]Q: You just said you never voted for an increase in the gas tax, but it doesn’t sound like you’re ruling out the possibility of including it in a tax reform deal.BOEHNER: I’ll just say this. When the Democrats had total control of the Congress, they couldn’t find the votes to raise the gas tax. It’s doubtful that the votes are here to raise the gas tax again.
Asked for further clarification, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told Greg Sargent, “The Speaker doesn’t support a gas tax hike. Period.”
The United States used to be the world leader on infrastructure, and as Reagan’s support for higher gas taxes makes clear, this used to be a bipartisan issue.
Those days are over.
David Brooks recently argued that there’s a “completely obvious” way to boost American job creation: “The federal government should borrow money at current interest rates to build infrastructure…. The fact that the federal government has not passed major infrastructure legislation is mind-boggling, considering how much support there is from both parties.”
And that would be a perfectly reasonable argument, were it not for the fact that support is limited to one party, not two.
Sargent added that this was arguably the one area of job-related policymaking where bipartisan cooperation was possible, especially with many private-sector leaders agreeing with Democrats on the need for investment.
And yet, the Republican House Speaker apparently isn’t prepared to act. Boehner told reporters today, “We’ve got to find a way to deal with America’s crumbling infrastructure,” but the GOP leader simply hasn’t the foggiest idea what that “way” might be, and he’s ruling out the one obvious solution that would fix the problem.