By JORDAN STRICKLER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has a plan to fix the nation’s infrastructure problems. The ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has proposed legislation that would increase the gas tax by a penny per year for the next 30 years to help pay for an infrastructure system in desperate need of repair.
The bill would raise an additional $17 billion a year for roads, bridges and transit systems. The proposal, if enacted, is expected to generate about $500 billion to revitalize U.S. infrastructure in the next 30 years. “It’s a pathetically small increase in the gas tax, and if anybody [in Congress] doesn’t have enough guts to vote for something that can do a $500 billion investment that would create tens of thousands of jobs, they don’t belong here,” DeFazio said.
If successful, the hike would be the first since 1993. The current tax sits at 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. The bill, which states that the tax would not exceed 1.5 cents per year, would authorize the U.S. Treasury Department to issue 30-year Invest in America Bonds annually through 2030 and deposit the funds from those bond sales into the Highway Trust Fund.
Each bond would be repaid with revenue from indexing the federal gas and diesel tax starting in 2017. The exact cost would be determined by two indexes: the National Highway Construction Cost Index and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard.
President Donald J. Trump has not weighed in on the issue, but DeFazio believes that he has a good chance of getting the new administration in his corner, especially with President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal. “Trump is going to be critical because he’s got to overcome the inertia of the Republican leadership,” said the congressman. “If Trump were to support this, I believe Chairman (Bill) Shuster (R-Pa.) would step up.”
U.S. infrastructure failed the grade in its latest report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which gave it a D+ for the secondconsecutive time. The ASCE grades U.S. infrastructure every four years across 16 categories, and its grade is the standard for the state of infrastructure in the United States. America’s transit had the worst grade, a D-, and railways earned a B, the highest on the report card.
Aviation, dams and roads all received D grades, and bridges and ports each earned C+ grades.
“This has to be a wake-up call for Congress. Our families and friends are using dangerously old roads, highways and bridges every day,” said Michael W. Johnson, president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Assoc. “We hope that Congress and the president take this report seriously and make a significant investment in America’s infrastructure because doing so creates jobs, builds up our economy and makes our transportation network safe.”
The reluctance of the U.S. Congress to raise a tax has several states taking it upon themselves. Since 2013, 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted gas-tax increases or measures. The most recent was a $0.23 per gallon rise last year in New Jersey.
Legislation is currently pending in Tennessee that calls for a six-cent per gallon rise on gasoline over the next three years, with a 10-cent increase for diesel over the same period. The bill seeks to raise gas and diesel taxes for the first time since 1989 in the Volunteer State.
Speaking at the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation State Convention in Franklin, Tenn., in December, Gov. Bill Haslam pitched his idea to the group, who has shown their support for the measure. “We talk a lot about transportation issues in Nashville – you might think of that as a public transit issues, or what are we going to do about (Interstate) 440, and in our cities it looks like that,” Haslam said. “But in our rural areas, literally, if you depend on getting your product to market, and you have a county bridge or a state bridge that needs to be repaired, it’s a life or death matter for your business.”
The ASCE estimates that $4.59 trillion is needed to improve infrastructure to a
good level by 2025.