Senate Republicans Learned Nothing – Gas Tax Edition

By Steve Eggleston

Thanks to the fracking boom (no thanks to President Obama and his eco-nuts on that) and the Saudis attempting to do to said boom what they did to the Soviets in the 1980s, the price of gasoline has plummeted. In fact, most of the stations in the Milwaukee area are charging less than $2 per gallon, a level I thought I would never see again.

However, the Political Class has deemed that gasoline is too low, and that government, in this case the federal government, needs more taxes, using the temporary situation of relatively-inexpensive gas as the pretext to push the gas and diesel taxes higher to “save” the United States Highway Trust Fund.

Notably, the push includes the three Republican Senators who have the chairs of the three committees that likely would have jurisdiction over such a move – Environment and Public Works Chair James Inhofe (R-OK), Finance Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Commerce, Science and Transportation Chair John Thune (R-SD). For their parts, Inhofe and Thune claim to not favor doing so, but that the option should be “on the table”. That is DC-speak for “let’s do it”.

Inhofe then destroyed his credibility on the issue by calling it a “user fee”. The fuel taxes haven’t been strictly a “user fee” since 1982, when a penny of the 5-cent increase to 9 cents per gallon was dedicated to mass transit, with another 0.1 cent dedicated to fuel tank clean-up. Mass transit’s share has since increased to 2.86 cents per gallon.

There already is a “bipartisan” proposal from Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) to jack up the taxes by 6 cents per year over the next 2 years, and then automatically raise them every year by indexing the taxes to inflation. The latter portion has been proven to be quite unpopular, with Massachusetts repealing by popular referendum its automatic indexing.

Simply removing mass transit and the tank from the fuel taxes won’t solve the Highway Fund’s problems, but it would be a start.