Transportation Policy

House Democrats' $500 Billion Transportation Overhaul Would Require Doubling the Federal Gas Tax

Senate Republicans have proposed a far more modest reauthorization of federal surface transportation spending programs that are set to expire in September.

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House Democrats are out with a new bill that would reauthorize the federal government's soon-to-expire surface transportation programs. Their proposal would boost current spending levels, devote a lot more money toward transit and passenger rail, and require a huge gas tax hike to pay for everything.

Last week, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D–Ore.), who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, released the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act. The legislation would devote $494 billion over the next five years to the Highway Trust Fund, the main federal spending program for highways and public transit, and other grant programs.

"The bulk of our nation's infrastructure is not only badly outdated," said DeFazio in a press release. "The INVEST in America Act is our opportunity to replace the outdated systems of the past with smarter, safer, more resilient infrastructure."

A little more than $410 billion, would be devoted to the federal government's Highway Trust Fund. That's a 46 percent boost from the last surface transportation bill, according to a committee summary of the legislation. It's also much more than generous than the surface transportation bill proposed by Senate Republicans last year. That bill, introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R–Wy.) would spend $287 billion over five years, $259 billion of which would be directed toward roads and bridges.

Those proposed levels of spending make DeFazio's proposal unlikely to get much traction, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation expert with the Reason Foundation (the nonprofit which publishes this website).

"It's never going to pass," he says. "The primary reason for that is the amount of spending would require doubling the federal gas tax and that's never going to happen."

The federal gas tax hasn't fully funded the Highway Trust Fund since 2008. In that time, Congress has had to transfer $144 billion from the Treasury's general fund and other sources to cover the gap, according to an April report from the Congressional Research Service.

The federal gas tax collected $36 billion in revenue in 2018, according to the Tax Foundation, an independent tax policy nonprofit. With vehicle miles traveled going off a cliff during the coronavirus pandemic, gas tax revenue is going to be even tighter.

In the past, both President Donald Trump and business lobby groups like the Chamber of Commerce have endorsed boosting the gas tax. Doing so now, in the midst of a severe economic slump, is unlikely, says Feigenbaum, calling DeFazio's bill more of a "messaging exercise" than anything else.

To that end, it includes a lot of money for Democratic priorities.

Spending on rail would get a big boost under this bill. The last surface transportation bill carved out $10.3 billion for passenger rail funding, with most of this going to the federally owned and operated Amtrak service.

The INVEST in American would spend close to $30 billion on Amtrak alone, and create a new $19 billion grant program for expanding intercity passenger rail. The bill also includes language that would force the Department of Transportation to re-obligate high-speed rail funds to their intended recipients. The Trump administration had stripped federal funding from California's disastrous high-speed rail project back in 2019.

While both highway and transit spending would see an increase in the bill, transit's share of surface transportation spending would increase more in DeFazio's bill. Language in the bill would also allow more flexibility for highway funds to be spent on transit, says Feigenbaum.

The bill would require states and localities to factor climate change impact into their transportation planning, and includes grant money for emissions reduction programs and climate change research.

The climate change provisions have been greeted with a chilly reception from both industry groups and congressional Republicans, according to Politico. Most are lining up behind Borrasso's more modest Senate proposal bill.

Congress's current surface transportation programs are mostly set to expire at the end of September. Feigenbaum says that 2020 being an election year probably means that Congress probably won't pass a long-term transportation reauthorization bill this year, and will instead pass a short-term extension until 2021.

NEXT: California NIMBYs Aren't Letting the COVID-19 Crisis Go to Waste

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  1. federal government’s Highway Trust Fund

    If it’s run by the federal government, and uses the word “trust” in any way… well, no thanks.

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  2. During a pandemic that government had us believe that public gatherings in confined spaces was essentially killing people, they’re now going to push for more spending that puts the public in confined spaces?

    Sounds about right.

    1. Public transit benefits urban centers more, so of course they are going to direct funds there.

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    2. No! The money is for new extra-long buses and subway cars.

      1. No the money is for the unionized workers who make the buses and subway cars and the unionized metro transport employees. Whether or not the buses materialize or the trains run on time is not tied to these payments.

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  3. Does it include special taxes on electric cars to pay their fair share of road depreciation?
    How about we totally fund all this rail and bike bullshit from new taxes on ‘green’ shit like toxic battery using electric cars and bird-killing wind farms? That way, the people who claim all this fascism is great will be the ones who actually pay for it.

  4. Glad all our other problems are solved.

  5. Why not? Maybe that would decrease our inefficient and highly subsidized suburban sprawl we’ve had for over half a century. Make people pay for things they use- what a novel idea.

    1. Make people who aren’t me pay for things they use- what a novel idea

      Fixed

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    2. Are the densely populated urban centers you appear to prefer not highly subsidized?

    3. Make highway users pay for urban mass transit…. umm what?

    4. Yes, after a pandemic, what we need is MORE concentrated population centers. Totally logical.

      1. The solution for that is to kick all the progressives out.deport them to Sweden, even if they claim not to be from there.

        Then redistribute all their money to lay for everything. Progs approve of redistribution of wealth. So it should be ok.

    5. Yeah, no sense spending tax money on the things that people who actually pay taxes might want.

  6. “The bulk of our nation’s infrastructure is not only badly outdated,” said DeFazio in a press release. “The INVEST in America Act is our opportunity to replace the outdated systems of the past with smarter, safer, more resilient infrastructure.”
    Either this is a shittily constructed piece of prose (entirely possible), or a poorly clipped excerpt. The infrastructure is not only outdated, but also . . . what?

    1. Shit, blockquote fail.

    2. OR – – – it could just be a piece of shit bill

  7. This is good. We need some federal spending to boost the economy.

    1. What about unforeseen consequences? Maybe we should have them give us extra money for those too just in case.

    2. I dunno man. Not sure we ever tried anything like that before.

      1. What we’re doing hasn’t worked. The only solution is to do it again, but with more money!

        1. “If brute force doesn’t work, get a bigger hammer.”
          – unknown factory worker

  8. The Minneapolis City Council on Sunday voted to disband its police department and invest in community-based public safety programs following calls from activists to ‘defund the police,’ in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

    Well, there goes the jewel of Minnesota. Glad I got the hell out of there in 2016. In a few years it’s going to look like Detroit.

    1. Too bad Dems have Covid as an excuse to not have their convention there. Would have been lit.

  9. If they just applied the Federal gas tax funds to road construction and maintenance, I wouldn’t have much problem with it, as it’s pretty much “Pay for what you use”, which seems fair.

    1. And if we want people to “pay for what you use”, bikes should have a major sales tax addition

      1. As a cyclist, I can speak with some authority when I say I have absolutely no use for bike lames on make or arterial. Because I have zero inclination to ride my bike on major arterials. Yet my municipality spends millions of dollars eliminating needed lanes for cars to add bike lanes on these roads that are barely used.

        Democrats are so homogeneously stupid.

        1. As a cyclist, I appreciate efforts to improve the roads for bike use and to include separate bike paths. While I avoid the main arterials there are times that they must be used and having room for bikes is good. Not only for the cyclist like me but it also reduces the cars swerving into the oncoming lanes to go around me. A win-win situation.

    2. If gas taxes were only used for road upkeep, that would be good. As far as pay for what you use, road damage and wear is almost exclusively a big truck issue. Roads would have ten times the lifetime or more if you kept heavy semis off of them. Enjoy paying a bunch more for goods if that happened though.

      1. Federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. Semis get about a quarter of the fuel mileage of cars, so they pay a good bit more per mile.

        1. This discussion reminds me of a program I once heard on WPR. The topic of the discussion was the state of the interstate roadways. Both car drivers and truckers agree on two things. First the interstate roads needs repairs and replacement. Second that the other group should be pay for most of the repairs.

  10. “It’s never going to pass,” he says. “The primary reason for that is the amount of spending would require doubling the federal gas tax and that’s never going to happen.”

    No problem. Just cite the National Infrastructure Emergency and print another $3 trillion!

  11. How much have they dedicated to buying Kente cloths?

    1. I heard the ENTIRE cultural appropriation budget went to that one purchase – – – – – –

  12. As far as taxes go, a gas tax to pay for infrastructure is one of the better ones. Of course, putting it towards boondoggles like rail makes it wasteful as usual. Focus on all those bridges and roads that supposedly need work first rather that flushing it down the toilet.

  13. Wonder why there is no estimate of how much the bill would raise the price per gallon of gasoline.

    1. Did good Catholics ask how much their indulgences would be? No, the sin must be absolved!

    2. Currently it’s 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel fuel. So if they double it, gas would go up 18.4 cents a gallon.

  14. It really needs to be mentioned how pie-in-the-sky bonkers it us that an organization can extract for itself $36,000,000,000 and cry poverty. Maybe use it for road and bridge maintenance and stop giving it to Amtrak?

    1. Be fair! Authoritarians love them trains.

      1. If you’re riding a train you’re not listening to subversive right-wing radio in your car and you have to go where the train is taking you. Leftist utopia.

  15. All roads lead to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

  16. I don’t have a problem with raising gas taxes to pay for roads. I’ve often thought the state gas tax is too low, gas taxes are an equitable way to pay for the roads and I don’t see where the state shouldn’t chip in to pay for their share of the interstates. Federal gas tax? Paying for shit that ain’t roads? A slush fund for spendthrift local governments? You’ll want to take the fuck off exit, it’s the next exit just ahead on your right, can’t miss it.

    1. PA massively boosted its gas tax about 7 years ago and we still can’t get enough roads built and fixed here.

      Raise the gas tax and it disappears or gets wasted or goes to money-losing transit.

  17. those assholes try to raise taxes when they’re not even running the show. love it.

  18. Spending on rail would get a big boost under this bill.

    What’s with the “party of science” and progressive ideas that they want to put 19th century technology everywhere? The day of the passenger choo-choo in the US is over.

    But I guess the day of the union job and blue political patronage and forcing the peasants to travel the way you want them to is not.

    1. Because their science (approved by Trofin Lysenko himself), says that you can run maglev trains on freight rails. Remember, no president ever signed the laws of physics.

  19. Any highway or bridge that gets overhauled should come with toll booths to pay for it.

    1. Most toll roads today use automatic tolling through a radio device. This is a great way to go as it does not disturb the traffic flow. If you bill for miles then gas, hybrids and electric vehicle pay the same fee. The down side is that it marks your location and the government will know where you are and where you are going. Gas tax does not track you. Your choice.

  20. Adding another half of a trillion dollars on top of the already insane amounts of deficit and debt spending, there must be more lead in DC water than there ever was in Flint’s.

  21. “… devote a lot more money toward transit and passenger rail, and require a huge gas tax hike to pay for everything.”

    “Transit and passenger rail” sounds like a great way to spread the flu. Instead of a huge gas tax maybe a huge electric vehicle tax is in order.

  22. So what? You want nice stuff, you gotta pay for it, and the fed gas tax is very long overdue for a raise.

    1. Pay for your own fucking train ticket, asshole. I have zero problem buying my own gas.

  23. Under what principle of equity does it makes sense to force drivers to pay for transit?

  24. The gas tax was last raised in 1993. Seeing we are almost talking 30 years, I am not sure doubling it is unreasonable. There are more roads today, use of the roads is increased adding 1T more miles in 2019 than in 1993, cost for construction and materials is up. So an increase is due.

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