House Blocks Federal Gas-Tax Hike, Considers Repeal

Legislators ready nonbinding "sense of Congress" phase-down amendment

federal gas tax highway trust fund Ron DeSantis

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.)

Update: The nonbinding amendment that called for a rollback of the federal gas tax to give states a greater role in infrastructure was overwhelmingly defeated on Wednesday by a vote of 310 to 118. 

WASHINGTON -- As one proposal to raise the federal gasoline tax to 33.4 cents per gallon (CPG) got blocked in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, another that would phase down federal fuel taxes was getting ready for a vote.

Both votes take place in a week when House lawmakers are considering dozens of amendments to a six-year highway infrastructure funding bill and trying to figure out how to pay its $325 million price tag by November 20, which is when the current transportation funding bill expires. That is also when the Highway Trust Fund, which is supported by the gas tax, will "drop below safe levels," according to the government.

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) had proposed an amendment to raise the federal gasoline tax by 15 CPG, which would have been the first increase since 1993. Revenue from the tax has not kept up with the growth in construction costs, and today only supports about two-thirds of funding for federal transportation projects.

The House Rules Committee blocked the amendment from proceeding to a vote, reported The Hill.

“I’m deeply disappointed that we are considering what alleges to be a six-year authorization without a real conversation about paying for it,” said Blumenauer, who said the tax increase would have fully funded the long-term bill under consideration—the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee approved the Transportation Reauthorization & Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3763)—and generate enough revenue to grow infrastructure spending.

“This is a missed opportunity to provide certainty for the hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake and give states and local governments the federal partnership they need and deserve,” he told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, the House is preparing to vote this week on a nonbinding, “sense of Congress” amendment that would eliminate federal fuel taxes. The proposal by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) was approved for a floor vote for Wednesday, said the report.

It would have legislators go on record on whether they believe “it is critical for Congress to phase down the federal gas and diesel taxes and empower the states to tax and regulate their highway and infrastructure projects.” This is referred to as “devolution,” and it is advocated by conservatives who believe that the states should control and pay for transportation infrastructure.

According to the wording of the amendment, “Each state is best capable of determining the needs of the state and acting on those needs. The federal role in highway transportation has, over time, usurped the role of the states by taxing motor fuels used in the states and then distributing the proceeds to the states based on the perceptions of the federal government on what is best for the states.”

Previous amendments to eliminate federal fuel taxes have failed, because opponents of devolution believe the federal government can best oversee interstate transportation infrastructure.