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Truckers Want Car Drivers To Pick Up Highway Tab

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Peter Fricke Contributor

The trucking industry wants lawmakers to fund a long-term highway bill by raising gasoline taxes, but opposes both increases in diesel taxes and new tolls on the Interstate system.

At a roundtable hosted by Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs Monday to discuss long-term funding for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), “representatives from the trucking industry encouraged raising the federal gasoline tax, currently at 18.4 cents per gallon, to help,” according to the Medina Gazette.

The HTF is the primary vehicle for federal transportation spending, and is funded by a tax on gasoline and diesel fuels. Revenue from gas taxes only provide about 60 percent of the $50 billion disbursed annually by the HTF, however, and the fund is set to run out of money on May 31 unless Congress acts to fill the gap. (RELATED: Highway Trust Fund Almost Broke, Senators Propose Gas Tax)

Previously, lawmakers have passed temporary fixes replenishing the fund with general tax revenues, but many have complained that this approach creates uncertainty for states that rely on federal monies for infrastructure projects, and exacerbates the federal budget deficit.

Tom Balzer of the Ohio Trucking Association told Gibbs that the revenue needed to shore up the HTF should continue to come from user fees, but suggested that instead of raising fuel taxes across the board, Congress should hike just the gasoline tax, which is six cents lower than the 24.4 cent-per-gallon tax on the diesel fuel consumed by trucks.

“The tax hasn’t been raised since 1981,” Balzer pointed out, though he did acknowledge that, “it’s a heavy lift for D.C. to ask for new taxes.”

Brian Burgett, chairman of Ohio-based construction company Kokosing, agreed with Balzer, arguing that gasoline tax revenues have been falling in recent years due to the improving fuel efficiency of consumer vehicles, creating the current funding shortfall.

“It’s costing more to build the roadways, but consumers are paying less,” Burgett said, adding, “We need more money just to maintain … the status quo.” (RELATED: Gas Taxes Could Explode Under New Highway Plan)

At the national level, the American Trucking Association has been urging Congress to “come together on a long-term, well-funded highway bill,” but has so far resisted several prominent proposals from both parties.

One such plan, the Transportation Empowerment Act sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Graves, would shift responsibility for infrastructure spending from the federal government to the states over five years, which supporters claim would make transportation spending more efficient and allow states to find creative new funding sources.

In a press release, the ATA strongly opposed the measure, calling it “an ill-conceived proposal that would strip away most federal funding for surface transportation projects, essentially eliminating the federal government’s constitutionally mandated role in promoting interstate commerce.”

The trucking industry is also unlikely to support the Grow America Act that was recently proposed by President Obama, because the bill would allow new tolls on Interstate highways—something the ATA has consistently opposed. (RELATED: Obama Proposal Would Almost Double Federal Highway Spending)

Rep. Gibbs seemed to espouse a more open-minded approach, telling the Medina Gazette after Monday’s discussion that, “I think everything can be on the table.”

Gibbs added that there is probably support in Congress for a “modest increase” in the gasoline tax to pay for new roads and bridges, but cautioned that those dynamics could shift as the public becomes better informed about the tax, saying,” I think many people think it’s a percent, like other taxes, but it’s a fixed amount.”

Ultimately, though, Gibbs predicted that Congress would continue to pass short-term fixes for the foreseeable future. “I’m not sure I see [a long-term solution] happening this year,” he told the audience, “and I don’t see much of anything happening next year as it’s going to be full of presidential politics.”

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