House Speaker John Boehner said he would not support plans to raise the national tax on gasoline, saying lawmakers would have to “work our way through” funding the country’s highways.
“I’ve never voted to raise the gas tax,” said Boehner, an Ohio Republican, adding that he doubted there would be enough votes to raise gas taxes.
Boehner’s remarks come as Republican lawmakers have been tinkering with the idea of raising the national gas tax to raise highway revenues. Plunging oil prices have caused gasoline prices to dramatically decline. On Thursday, the national average price for gas hit $2.20 per gallon — down from $3.31 per gallon a year ago, according to AAA Fuel Gauge.
While consumers see lower transportation costs, some lawmakers have seen an opportunity to raise taxes when drivers are still mesmerized by falling gas prices. Senate Republicans have said a gas tax hike is on the table as a way to fill the growing highway funding gap.
“We’ll have to look at that. I’m looking at everything—every possible way of taking care of the highway bill,” said Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.
“I don’t favor increasing any tax…but I think we have to look at all the options,” South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace when asked about a potential gas tax hike.
The U.S. currently taxes gasoline at 18.4 cents per gallon and states tax gas on average 23.47 cents per gallon. Proponents of raising the gas tax argue for a hike because that tax has not been raised since 1993 and is not indexed to inflation.
In December, Reps. Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon pushed a bipartisan plan to raise the federal gas tax 15 cents per gallon over the next three years and index it to inflation. Both lawmakers have cited former President Ronald Reagan’s support for raising a gas tax in 1982.
“Ronald Reagan supported raising the gas tax back in 1982 because he believed in funding American infrastructure in a responsible way. I think he was right, and it’s the best course of action we can take at this time,” said Petri, a Republican who retired at the end of last year.
“We all use our roads, bridges and rail, whether we’re Republicans or Democrats, rural or urban,” said Blumenauer, a Democrat. “This should be our last gas tax increase ever, as we look for fairer and more sustainable funding methods, but it’s necessary to bridge the gap and keep our country moving.”
The Highway Trust Fund has run short on cash for the last 13 years. As of June 2014, the Trust Fund had a $6.5 billion balance, but it’s expected to lose money again in 2014.
But gas tax critics have argued that raising the gas tax does not solve fundamental problems behind highway funding.
“This is a bait and switch that politicians play all the time,” anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist with Americans for Tax Reform told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “President Obama spent $800 billion with a stimulus package, which was supposed to pave all the highways.”
“We should push down to governors and to mayors the responsibility for raising their own taxes and building their own roads,” he added.
Norquist and other critics, however, may have less to worry about now that Boehner has come out against raising the gas tax.
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