It’s Time to Raise the Gas Tax

Industry organizations have been quietly advocating for an increase in the gasoline sales tax – aka user fees – for a long time. After all, it has not been raised since 1993. The Highway Trust Fund is clearly ailing.

Now, industry advocates have a big stick swinging on their behalf. The national Chamber of Commerce has come out with a recommendation to boost the gasoline sales tax by 25 cents per gallon.

The proposal was formally introduced by the Chamber, part of a series of principles the business group is offering in a bid to help shape the debate about upgrading roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure.

Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue said his organization wants, “to put our oar in the water” and said that it would be “a tough vote” to raise the gas tax for the first time since 1993. But he said that support has been building in the business community and elsewhere.

“I’ve been pushing this for a long, long time, but now gangs of people are pushing it,” Donohue said in an interview in which he also said immigration reform would be critical to ensuring that sufficient labor is available for public works projects.

What is the issue for our politicians?

I believe it can be traced back to the 1980s, when President George H.W. Bush said, “Read my lips. No new taxes,” then promptly agreed to tax increases as part of a 1990 budget agreement. He paid a steep political price for that.

Then there is Grover Norquist, and the Americans for Tax Reform, an organization that opposes all tax increases. Norquist insists that politicians sign a Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising not to vote for tax increases. Members of Congress who go back on their pledge can expect an opposition candidate to run against them in their next primary election, courtesy of Norquist.

So fear of voting for a tax increase of any kind is top of mind for many politicians, because there are consequences. But now, with the Chamber of Commerce as an ally, maybe some representatives will think again.

Truth is, the time is right. Businesses benefit from improved roads and bridges as well as consumers. And those roads and bridges are not getting any better. It’s time for our politicians to step up to the plate and properly fund investment in our future.

Mark S. Kuhar, editor

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