A man pumps gas in New York City.
Andy Kropa/Redux

Trump finds a tax he wants to raise: the one you pay at the pump

Donald Trump’s long-awaited infrastructure plan was finally unveiled this week, and it immediately landed with a thud. Among it’s many problems: the White House doesn’t know how to pay for it.

The Washington Post  reports, however, that the president has apparently warmed up to a provocative idea.

President Trump tried Wednesday to persuade his fellow Republicans to raise the gas tax. In a closed-door meeting on infrastructure with members of both parties, Trump pitched the idea of a 25-cent increase in the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993.

There’s a growing rift among Republicans about whether it’s worth considering a tax hike to fund much-needed upgrades to America’s roads and bridges…. Republicans, who just passed major legislation to reduce taxes on businesses and families, are lukewarm on the idea of turning around and raising taxes at the pump. Last month, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said he has “complete confidence” that the gas tax won’t go up. It’s currently 18.4 cents a gallon.

According to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who attended yesterday’s discussion, the president emphasized the idea of a 25-cent increase in the gas tax “several times throughout the meeting.”

Would a GOP-led Congress seriously consider a gas-tax increase on the heels of the Republicans’ regressive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations? I rather doubt it.

But unlike so much of what we hear from this White House, what Trump is recommending isn’t crazy.

In case anyone needs a refresher, let’s put this in some policy context. The Highway Trust Fund, which plays a central role in financing infrastructure projects, is financed through a federal gas tax that hasn’t changed over the last quarter-century.

The results have been more than a little problematic: the resources simply don’t exist anymore to keep up with the nation’s infrastructure needs. U.S. investments have dropped to levels unseen in generations, at least in part because the gas tax hasn’t gone up, even to account for inflation.

And so, Trump apparently believes he could pay for quite a few infrastructure investments with the gas tax hike – which, oddly enough, happens to be true.

Admittedly, this tax isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s biggest flaw is that it’s regressive: as a New Republic piece explained this week, “poor people are made to spend more on gas because they have cheaper, less efficient cars.”

That said, the need for infrastructure investments is immediate, and an increase in the gas tax would make a positive difference, including on the environment by encouraging fuel efficiency. The question now is whether congressional Republicans are prepared to do what Reagan did twice: raise this tax.