Democrat Congressman: Tax Drivers for Every Mile They Drive

July 11, 2014 - 4:07 PM

Earl Blumenauer

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) spoke at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. on July 11, 2014. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – While the House and the Senate this week issued measures intended to temporarily replenish the Highway Trust Fund before it runs out of money next month, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) ended the week by proposing to hike - then abolish - the federal fuel tax and replace it with a per-mile “fee.”

“The policy development that I’m most excited about and that will reinforce the right practices for the future: After we raise the gas tax, we should abolish it,” Blumenauer said on Friday at the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. “The time is right to replace the gas tax, because it’s no longer an accurate reflection of road use and benefit because of these wildly changing fuel consumption patterns, and replace it with a vehicle mile travel fee regardless of the choice of vehicle fuel.

“That technology is available,” said Blumenauer, whose home state of Oregon has already had pilot vehicle mile travel fee programs in place for a decade.

And although Blumenauer did not take questions at the event, he attempted to deflect criticism about the vehicle mile travel fee being disadvantageous to rural Americans who not only don’t have access to public transportation but also need cars or trucks to operate their businesses.

“That’s exactly the reverse of reality,” Blumenauer said. “Our continued reliance on single-occupant vehicles in too much of America and on gallons of fuel consumed to pay for it places rural and small town Americans at a significant disadvantage, because today too many of them have no alternatives to driving.

Blumenauer said “gas-sipping” people who drive hybrid or electric cars tend to be urban-dwelling and more affluent, while rural Americans tend to drive less fuel-efficient cars.

“They are caught at the opposite end of this transportation spending spiral – paying more and more while the rest pay less and less,” Blumenauer said.

The debate in Congress about how to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent has been going on for decades, and the current federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been increased since 1993, according to the Department of Transportation.

Many proposals have been made over the years, including by Blumenauer, who last year held a press conference to announce his plan for increasing the federal fuel tax to 33.4 cents a gallon for gas and 42.8 cents a gallon for diesel, according to a Dec. 4, 2013 Washington Post report.

“Every credible independent report indicates that we are not meeting the demands of our stressed and decaying infrastructure system — roads, bridges and transit,” Blumenauer said in the Washington Post article. “Congress hasn’t dealt seriously with the funding issue for 20 years.

“With inflation and increased fuel efficiency, especially for some types of vehicles, there is no longer a good relationship between what road users pay and how much they benefit,” Blumenauer said.

Also in December 2013, Blumenauer introduced H.R. 3638, the Road Usage Fee Pilot Program Act of 2013, to enact a mileage-based federal gas tax. The bill was referred to committee.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the House put forth measures to replenish funding for the Highway Trust Fund’s road, bridge and mass transit projects by transferring $10.8 billion in transportation funds using “financing mechanisms unrelated to transportation.” That bill would extend funding through May 2015.

The Senate voted Thursday to use similar funding strategies but also included language to improve compliance with existing laws not related to transportation such as collecting delinquent Medicare payments from health care providers and tightening rules for mortgage-interest deductions, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Blumenauer said at CAP that higher taxes are needed to improve the U.S. infrastructure.

“America is literally falling apart, while we’re fast losing what used to be a competitive edge with superior infrastructure,” Blumenauer said.