Bond Buyer 5/30/14 3:33pm ET B Jim Watts
DALLAS – Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on Friday that he will propose a 12 cent per gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax to support highway and transit projects without drawing on general fund revenues.
Murphy said he will introduce his proposal to raise the gasoline tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, by six cents in 2015 and another six cents in 2016, this summer when the Senate considers how to finance a six-year, $242 billion highway bill adopted last month by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The federal gasoline tax has been at its current level since 1993 and has lost much of its purchasing power due to inflation since then, said Murphy, who is not a member of the Senate committees with jurisdiction over transportation issues.
“For 20 years, Congress has had its head in the sand, pretending that money is going to fall off trees for infrastructure,” Murphy said at a news conference in New Haven, Conn. “It’s time to stop pretending.”
The proposal would also create 500,000 jobs, Murphy said.
The highway bill passed by the Senate committee would keep federal transportation spending at 2014 levels plus inflation through 2020. However, the legislation does not resolve what committee chairman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said was a $100 billion gap between gasoline tax revenues in the Highway Trust Fund and expenditures from the fund.
“Congress needs to get some political courage and realize that in order to rebuild America, we need to actually pay for it,” Murphy said.
Lawmakers have transferred a total of $58 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund since 2008 due to flat revenues from the gasoline tax, an economist with the Congressional Budget Office told the Senate Finance Committee last month.
“Lawmakers could maintain funding for surface transportation programs at the average amounts provided in recent years, but to do so they would need to transfer $18 billion in 2015 and between $13 billion and $18 billion every year” after that, said Joseph Kile, assistant director for microeconomic studies at CBO.
Each one cent increase in the gasoline tax would generate $1.5 billion a year, Kile said.
Murphy’s proposal is one of several attempts to increase federal funding for transportation.
Legislation in the House introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would increase the gasoline tax by 15 cents a gallon, phased in over three years. The new tax rate would be indexed to inflation.
President Obama’s four-year, $302 billion surface transportation proposal, the Grow America Act, would be financed in part by $160 billion from reform of the corporate tax code.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said his plan to reform the corporate tax code would generate $126.5 billion to bolster the Highway Trust Fund