Feb 14, 2018 - Energy & Environment

White House aide urges broader debate on gas tax

A traffic jam in Chicago. Photo: Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A White House adviser working to pass President Trump’s infrastructure package is casting doubt on whether a hike in the gas tax, as it’s currently structured, would do its intended job:

“We need to figure out as a country what kind of infrastructure we want for the next 50 years and then decide how we’re going to pay for it, instead of finding ourselves in the traditional legacy arguments of gas tax or no gas tax."
— Alexander Herrgott, associate director for infrastructure at WH Council on Environmental Quality

Why it matters: Trump endorsed a 25-cent gas tax hike to pay for his infrastructure package at a White House meeting Wednesday, Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports. The idea is likely dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, where many Republicans say they’re not about to hike taxes right after passing tax cuts.

Gritty details: The federal gas tax, which Congress hasn't raised since 1993, stands at 18.4 cents. The revenue goes toward the Highway Trust Fund, which is used to maintain the nation’s roads, highways and mass transit systems. Current law restricts the tax’s funds from being used for any other type of infrastructure, the point Herrgott was making Tuesday night at an event hosted by Republican Women for Progress, a conservative women's’ group.

“How can we talk about rebuilding and assessing a user fee like a gas tax when we haven’t adequately communicated what they’re getting for those dollars?” Herrgott said. “Before we have the conversation about raising revenue for just highways, we are trying to address airports, bridges, transit facilities, water, etc. – a much broader agenda. That’s what we’re really trying to do.”

One level deeper: Much of the nation’s infrastructure is paid for by siloed forms of tax revenues, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan think tank. Airports, for example, are maintained with their own trust fund and a ticket tax.

“Of course Congress can amend the structure and redirect it [the gas tax] in some infrastructure package,” said Steve Ellis, spokesman for the group. “But there are already those that complain gas tax dollars should just go to roads, not transit or bus or anything else. And the fact is it doesn’t generate enough revenue for the amount Congress already wants to spend!”
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