Inhofe: Gas tax isn't a tax

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From the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog:

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R., Okla.), who just took the reins of the panel, said he is open to considering raising the gas tax as a way to help pay for the dwindling Highway Trust Fund that keeps up the nation's roads and other transportation infrastructure.

"Everything is on the table," Mr. Inhofe said in a Wednesday briefing with reporters to preview his committee agenda. He said his top priority is passing a long-term transportation bill, whose spending runs out at the end of May.

With gasoline prices at lows not seen since 2009, some political observers and business executives say now is the ideal time to raise the 18.4 cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline and the 24.4 cent-a-gallon tax on diesel fuel, which haven't increased since 1993. The taxes are the main source of revenue for the highway trust fund.

Mr. Inhofe didn't say he supports raising the gas tax, and he refutes referring to it as such. "It's not a tax," Mr. Inhofe said. "It's a user fee."

He also said this period of cheap gas isn't really a window of opportunity given it could close sooner than Congress is going to act. "You don't know what's going to happen to the price of gas," Mr. Inhofe said.

It doesn't sound like Sen. Inhofe is gung-ho for boosting the Federal gas tax, but he's more open to the idea than he should be. If the gas tax is collected as a "user fee" for those who travel our interstate highway system, then the money collected should be spent only on the interstate highway system. If lower gas prices create an opportunity to raise gas taxes, leave that to state and local governments, who can then prioritize spending among local needs -- widening local highways, rebuilding bridges, installing sidewalks, building bike lanes, funding mass transit.

Sending locally-collected money to Washington just so congressmen and senators can send it back home is a ridiculous game. The money comes back with strings attached, is often politically directed, and often gets spent on wasteful projects that are only pursued because the money is "federal" and treated like a windfall. (I-40 relocation in Oklahoma City is a prime example.)

I'd love to see our new Republican majorities reduce the federal gas tax and federal diesel tax to what is required to fund upkeep on the two-digit interstates -- the trunk roads that are the backbone for shipment of goods around the US. Then states can choose -- or not -- to raise local fuel taxes to match the cut in federal taxes.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 10, 2015 1:33 AM.

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