U.S. Chamber pushes funding infrastructure; will Congress listen?
It’s refreshing to see the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put partisan politics aside for the sake of our national economy.
This summer, C of C members have been wooing Senate and House leaders to raise the federal fuel tax to address crumbling bridges and highways. Such an effort shows that Chamber leaders, long known for their aversion to taxes, understand what a vital role taxes play in economic development and quality of life.
That it’s been 26 years since the tax has been raised should be reason enough — were it not that we’re on the heels of an election year.
This spring, President Donald Trump was on board, agreeing to a $2 trillion infrastructure deal proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Republicans, meanwhile, have held back, choking on the word “tax” and feeling the heat from groups like Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of oil giant Koch Industries, which relies heavily on transportation. It’s not that they’re against better infrastructure, mind you. They just don’t want to help pay for it.
Chamber advocates suggest raising the tax 5 cents from its current rate of 18.4 cents a gallon for the next five years. For the average driver that would mean an additional $9 a month. Every penny in additional tax means $1.8 billion in revenue. The money goes to the federal Highway Trust Fund, which assists states with maintenance and construction.
Proponents argue the additional tax is necessary because current spending has exceeded annual revenues every year since 2000. Also, the user-pay tax is borne by those who drive on roads and bridges, making it fairer.
Conscientious opponents, however, say the tax is unfair to the poor because it takes a disproportionate amount of their income. Sure, but a user-pay tax is the best way to accomplish a major function of government: fund projects that individual entities could not take on alone.
WHEN IT COMES to states, Kansas is no better at funding its transportation needs.
Much of the blame goes to the fact that ever since the 10-year T-WORKS transportation program was approved in 2010, almost $3 billion of its funding has gone to support things unrelated to highway or bridge repairs.
Gov. Laura Kelly has promised change, including phasing out such transfers. State transportation officials estimate current projects demand $500 million a year but are running $100 million short.
It’s been 16 years since Kansas last raised its gas tax, putting us almost 40% behind today’s costs for asphalt, machinery and labor.
To escape what had become a perennial battle, many states index their gas taxes so that they rise according to inflation. That way the increases are minuscule, and legislatures have reliable budgets.
Earlier this year a dozen states increased their fuel taxes. For Illinois, it had been 30 years since its last increase. Using inflation as their guide, lawmakers there boosted the gas tax by 19 cents per gallon, and 24 cents a gallon for diesel.
Ohio was in a similar position, raising its rates by double digits.
The majority of the other states, however, could raise their rates by much lesser amounts because they had been scheduled.
It would behoove Kansas lawmakers to consider raising the fuel tax sooner rather than later.
The longer we wait, the further behind we fall.
— Susan Lynn