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U.S. Senators Propose Gas Tax Increase. Will It Fix Our Crumbling Roads & Bridges?

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America doesn't do a great job of maintaining its highways and byways. At least a third of our roads are substandard, and our crumbling bridges need $3.6 trillion of repairs.

Part of the reason for those shortcomings is that the federal gas tax, which was designed to keep our infrastructure up to snuff, hasn't been raised in over twenty years. Our colleagues at Green Car Reports say that a modest hike has been proposed by two U.S. Senators, but how far will the bill get?

BACKSTORY

The federal gasoline tax was created to generate funds for roadway maintenance and expansion. It debuted in 1932 at a rate of one cent per gallon of gas. By 1993 that figure had slowly climbed to 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel.

And that's where much of the backstory ends, because Congress hasn't upped gas tax rates in 21 years. Meanwhile, highways from coast to coast have been falling apart, the need for new roads has been growing, and the cost of repairs and construction have been increasing.

Think about that for a moment. Could you live on what you were earning in 1993? Neither can the Highway Trust Fund, which manages monies generated by the gas tax.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS

According to the Boston HeraldSenators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) have unveiled a modest, 12-cent increase to the gas tax, which would roll out over two years via six-cent increases per year. 

The two have thoughtfully added a provision that would peg the gas tax to economic metrics, ensuring that it keeps pace with inflation. Murphy and Corker aim to fund their proposal by cutting taxes elsewhere -- namely, by not renewing dozens of tax breaks that expired this year.

Given the contentious mid-term election atmosphere in Washington, it's highly unlikely that the senators' plan will pass. Which means that either the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August, or Congress will pull together bits of money from here and there to keep the Fund at work until a bigger, more permanent fix is found.

OUR TAKE

Green Car Reports scored an interview with John Bozzella, the president and CEO of Global Automakers, who was as pessimistic about the Corker/Murphy proposal as we are. However, he suggested that the bill might come up for consideration after the mid-term elections, when lame ducks on their way out are less concerned about playing to their various interest groups, or when the new Congress is installed and eager for action.

All we know for sure is that something has to happen. The current federal gas tax level is inadequate, and it's unlikely that interstate tolls could generate enough dough to make up the difference.

Down the line, it's possible that a pay-per-mile system could help fund U.S. roads, but that will require a lot of work, and an even greater financial investment. For now, a hike in the federal gas tax seems the fairest, simplest way to go.

For a more detailed discussion of the gas tax bill, visit our colleagues at Green Car Reports.

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