With average gasoline prices at their lowest in years, some lawmakers are tinkering with a proposal to increase the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993.
The gas tax is 18.4 cents a gallon, and diesel fuel tax is 24.4 cents a gallon. The taxes bring in approximately $34 billion a year to the federal Highway Trust Fund, but the government spends about $50 billion a year. The trust fund has been the main source of federal transportation aid to states for more than 60 years.
Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens strongly supports increasing fuel taxes.
“The tax absolutely has to go up. Our infrastructure is suffering; there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “The political opportunity is here because gas prices are dropping… Time is of the essence in this funding issue. What we’re losing every day by not completing the Brent Spence bridge project is millions of dollars.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said it’s critical that lawmakers address potential shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund to prevent delays of critical, job-creating infrastructure projects.
“We must debate all options on the table when it comes to a long-term highway bill that ensures funding for American roads and bridges,” Brown said. “By investing in infrastructure projects, we create American jobs, promote economic development, and ensure the safety of our bridges and roadways.”
But experts don’t think the new Republican-controlled Congress will support raising this tax. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said there aren’t enough votes in the House for a gas tax increase. His spokeswoman Kara Hauck said, “Rep. Boehner doesn’t support a gas tax hike – period.”
And drivers interviewed by this newspaper agree, raising taxes now just isn’t a good idea.
“It’s a terrible (proposal)…leave it like it is. (The low gas prices) will stimulate the economy because people will take more trips,” said Kevin Rainey of Liberty Twp.
Rainey now pays on average $50 a week for gas. A few months ago, he paid approximately $100 a week for gas. Rainey said he’s putting the money he’s saved toward a vacation fund.
“I pay enough taxes as it is,” said Mark Fouts of Hamilton. “We pay a lot of taxes; I don’t believe we need anymore.”
The lack of voter enthusiasm for raising gas taxes hasn’t deterred die-hard gas tax supporters who say it is preferable to a one-time fix because it would ensure continued funding.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., issued a statement saying he intends to reintroduce a bill to raise fuel taxes 15 cents a gallon. He introduced a similar bill last year, but it wasn’t considered by the GOP-controlled House. Blumenauer estimated the increase would raise an additional $210 billion over the next decade.
Wilkens doesn’t believe there’s a magic number for how much gas taxes should be raised. He said he thinks “even if we end up capping it at three percent a year that’s a plus. We need to index it to inflation.”
Wilkens said money from the gas fund has been dwindling due to more fuel-efficient cars on the road, people driving less and most recently falling gas prices.
“We’re seeing probably a two percent reduction in gas tax fees coming in,” he said.
The Butler County Engineer’s Office annual operating budget is $12 million, and workers are responsible for maintaining approximately 600 miles of road. Just one example of having less money in the budget, Wilkens said for roads that have less than 1,000 cars traveling on them his workers will use chip seal to resurface roads instead of asphalt, which is three times more expensive.
On Jan. 1, the average price of unleaded regular gas in Ohio was $1.96 compared to $3.36 for the same time period last year, according to AAA.
“AAA continues to advocate for an increase to this user fee as the most effective and efficient way to fund our transportation system, provided the money is used to ease congestion and improve safety,” AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet said. “We can only hope that the promise of bipartisanship and collaboration prevails so that we can achieve a sustainable and reliable long-term funding solution.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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