Gas tax hike likely off the table in infrastructure bill talks

PROMO Transportation - Road Highway Construction - Pixabay - Larisa Koshkina
Published Tuesday, June 22, 2021
by Jack Birle | The Center Square

(The Center Square) - Amid negotiations for a bipartisan infrastructure package, one of the most contentious points of disagreement may be off the table, according to one of the bipartisan group's Republican senators.

The gasoline tax has been used for years to fund infrastructure, but previous speculation that it could be raised to fund President Joe Biden's new infrastructure bill appears unlikely.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, spoke against tax hikes while discussing the negotiations with the Biden administration for a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

"The administration, therefore, will need to come forward with other ideas without raising taxes," Portman said. "What we don't want to do is hurt the economy right now as we're coming out of this pandemic by raising taxes on working families."

The change in tone comes amid reports over the weekend that President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats strongly oppose raising the gas tax in any way. At a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Biden's opposition to an increased gas tax.

"The President's pledge was not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 a year and the proposed gas tax, or vehicle milage tax, would do exactly that, so that is a non-starter for him," Psaki said.

Wariness toward raising the federal gas tax to fund bills is nothing new. The idea of an increased gas tax has been entertained by some previous administrations in talks but never made progress due to general opposition by both political parties.

In 2010, the rumor of an increased gas tax being included in a bipartisan energy and climate bill proposal nearly ended negotiations with the Obama administration before they began. Former President Donald Trump talked about a potential increase in the gas tax in an interview with Bloomberg in 2017, but no increase ever materialized during his term.

The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not increased since 1993 and is currently earmarked for highway and transit programs. The now unlikely proposal would have made the federal gas tax proportional to the increase in inflation, in order to fund a bipartisan infrastructure package.

An increased tax on gas would add to already rising price of gasoline for Americans across the country. According to the American Automobile Association, the price gas is up nationally nearly 94 cents per gallon on average versus this time last year, at $3.071 per gallon.

A bipartisan group of senators has supported a proposed $973 billion bill which would fund infrastructure over five years. The bipartisan group includes 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, who will formally unveil their infrastructure plan this week. 

Republicans in the group have expressed concerns overing funding the infrastructure package, amid a rapidly increasing federal deficit. Proposals by Republican senators have included several ideas for funding infrastructure improvements including using leftover funds from the COVID-19 relief bills. 

Portman expressed the bipartisan agreement for paying for the group's infrastructure plan actively rather than adding to the deficit on his appearance on "Meet the Press."

"Ours is about core infrastructure and it is paid for," Portman said. "It's paid for without raising taxes, which is key. And I do think we have agreement on that. And I do think there are very creative ways to pay for infrastructure that wouldn't be available for other expenses."

The White House has expressed optimism on the prospects of a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Psaki explained at a press briefing the ongoing process of negotiations between the bipartisan group of senators and the Biden administration.

"As it relates to details, of course there needs to be ongoing discussion, there will be over the coming days, rapidly I expect we'll have conservations this afternoon," Psaki said.

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