Gas Pains: Taxpayers Are Running Low on Fuel

Pumping Gas

At a Gasman station just outside of Middletown, Connecticut, Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy’s constituents can fill up their tanks for $1.99 a gallon.

Drivers 966 miles away in Republican Sen. Bob Corker’s state of Tennessee can fill up their tanks at the old Pilot on Interstate-40 for less even less: $1.69 a gallon.

In 39 other states across the nation, drivers can find at least one station selling gas for less than two dollars while Americans enjoy the lowest gas prices in decades – and a couple extra Benjamins in their wallets from paying less at the pump.

Unfortunately, it appears that, for every step forward, taxpayers get shoved two steps back.

Recent proposals from a handful of Washington insiders, including Sens. Corker and Murphy, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), James Inhofe (R-Ok.), and John Thune (R-S.D.) have included gas tax hikes to fix the crumbling 59-year-old Highway Trust Fund (HTF), a source of revenue for the interstate highway fund that will expire in May.

Proponents of a gas tax hike continuously blame the long-standing flat rate of 18-cents-per-gallon for the trust fund’s inability to meet all of its obligations, claiming that their proposed plan of a 12-cents-per-gallon increase would provide $164 billion in revenue over the next decade to fund the HTF.

Time after time, proponents of a gas tax hike fail to realize that the trust fund deficit has mainly occurred as a result of more fuel-efficient vehicles on the roads and increasing amounts of transportation earmarks.

Congressional members have proposed drastic gas tax increases for more than a decade ever since former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and former Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) first introduced a 12-cent-per-gallon increase in 2003.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a prominent proponent of siphoning transportation money away from vital infrastructure in order to fund pet projects such as bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways, confidently pitched H.R. 3636, the UPDATE Act of 2013, a bill that would have increased the federal gas tax 81 percent to 33-cents-a-gallon, further adding to an already lengthy list of transportation pork projects.

The Congressional Research Service believes there are other ways to fund and finance infrastructure, claiming there are hundreds of billions of dollars of private monies available globally for infrastructure investment.

Between fiscal years 2008-2014, Congress fueled the trust fund with more than $55 billion from the nation’s general revenues in order to keep the fund solvent, yet diverted well over that amount in order to fund non-highway related projects – many of which did nothing to decrease highway congestion or repair the 64,000 structures in the U.S. that remain structurally deficient.

According to the AAA, the average American uses 533 gallons of gas each year to drive 12,000 miles.  With the current nationwide average price of fuel at $2.26 a gallon, the average American could save $234 at the pump each year.  If the current proposed tax hike is approved, the federal gas tax will have increased 235 percent since 1987 when it stood at 9.1 percent per gallon.

Consumers are already running on fumes after shelling out more than $9.6 billion in 2014 for low-priority transportation boondoggles – nearly 25 percent of gas-tax funds.

More than 246 million cars are forced to squeeze onto 47,000 miles of interstate that have only increased 15 percent during the last 50 years – that is 278 percent more congestion on the road since the transportation boom of 1964.

Instead of raising the gas tax to fund more unneeded projects, Congress should refocus the trust fund’s resources toward maintaining and upgrading federal highways only, prohibit pork from being included in future transportation bills, and devolve control and resources associated with local and regional projects back to the states.  As the party of supposed limited government and fiscal responsibility, Republicans should know better than to propose a hike on the gasoline tax that will only decrease the incentive to use gasoline.

Though it is unlikely, if lawmakers do decide to impose an added expense on hard-working Americans in order to provide a short-term fix to insufficient revenues due to a lack of spending prioritization, they will simply be throwing good money at bad policies.

Plainly put, our nation’s infrastructure needs more than stop-gap emergency financing – and taxpayers are simply running out of fuel.

The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.