U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican leader, at a July 27 Congressional oversight hearing, declared dead a federal gas tax increase to fund a long-term transportation bill.
Although some leading Democrats support a gas tax increase in the next surface transportation reauthorization, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who testified at the hearing, confirmed that the Obama Administration does not support any increase in the gas tax. (Click here for YouTube video on Congressional oversight hearing on transportation reauthorization.)
At the hearing, discussion continued to center around the need to pass a six-year surface transportation reauthorization, something the Democratic majority has been unable to accomplish to date.
“Only a long-term transportation bill will truly spur employment in this country and in the construction industry, now facing an incredible 20.1 percent unemployment rate,” Mica said in his testimony. “Unfortunately, the Obama Administration undermined Committee Chairman Oberstar’s efforts to promote a long-term reauthorization, and did not want to see a vote on a gas tax increase after passing a number of other controversial measures over the past year.”
Mica, who has been a strong opponent of increasing the federal gas tax, said the next Congress will be even less inclined to come to Washington and propose a gas tax increase. “The next long-term reauthorization must consider a host of financing alternatives to help stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, which currently relies on the increasingly obsolete gas tax for funds.”
The federal gas tax is a user fee motorists pay on every gallon of gas purchased at the pump. These funds are collected in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is used to finance projects to build and maintain the nation’s highways, and some transit, infrastructure. Several factors, such as the growing fuel efficiency of the nation’s vehicle fleet and the increased use of alternative fuels, have contributed to the declining ability of the gas tax to adequately finance our infrastructure needs.
“We must also cut the red tape in the infrastructure project approval process,” Mica continued. “As the stimulus has shown, projects take too long to get through the bureaucratic approval process. This country rebuilt the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis within 437 days, when a project of that magnitude usually takes seven or eight years. We can use that project as a model for speeding up the process for many other major infrastructure improvements.”
Referring to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Mica said, “The stimulus is still missing the mark and failing to deal with record unemployment in the nation. Overall, four out of five stimulus jobs have been government jobs, and in September we will face a layoff of a half-million temporary census workers.
“According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, over 50 percent of highway stimulus projects have been short-term repaving projects,” Mica continued. “The project approval process must be cut significantly to speed up major infrastructure projects and we need a long-term transportation bill to really get people working again.”