News Groups See Infrastructure Funding Opportunity With Fuel Prices Falling

AASHTO Journal, 24 October 2014

A number of news organizations with large readership numbers are calling this month for lawmakers to raise the nation’s gasoline tax, to spend more on highways, bridges and transit systems.

They argue that with global oil prices tanking this autumn, in turn bringing down retail gas and diesel prices at the pump, now is an especially favorable time to put through a fuel tax hike that can finance infrastructure upgrades for years to come.

“Raise the federal gasoline tax. And do it soon while the price of oil is so low that people would barely notice,” the nationwide USA Today newspaper said on Oct. 19.

And major business news service Bloomberg, in an Oct. 16 editorial that was used by various newspapers around the country, said “the economic case for a gas tax hike is compelling, and Congress should be paying attention. America’s old and creaky transportation infrastructure is a significant drag on the economy.”

In the nation’s capital, the Washington Post said Oct. 3 that to finally put the Highway Trust Fund on sure footing and with pump prices falling, “Congress should make the rational policy change — fixing the gas tax — as soon as it gets back from the campaign trail” and not even wait until a temporary trust fund patch runs out next May.

Their call comes at the same time a number of states are seeing their own state transportation funds dwindling, and with more state officials saying they may need to raise their own fuel taxes and perhaps shift them to a percentage tax system that can rise over time as energy prices pick up. (See the New Jersey and Mississippi stories in the States section of this week’s AASHTO Journal.)

This focus on fuel price declines and infrastructure shows that even during a big election season with plenty of issues being debated, transportation needs and how to pay for them are drawing the attention of many elected officials, editorial boards and voters.

For instance, Texas voters on Nov. 4 will decide on a proposed state constitutional amendment that could redirect into transportation up to half the annual receipts from oil and gas production taxes. The Houston Chronicle said legislators think the measure could add $1.7 billion to transportation funds in the first year, if it passes.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts has a ballot measure to repeal a provision in a 2013 law that was designed to increase transportation revenue. That law would let state gasoline taxes rise with future inflation, and the ballot measure would prevent the indexing from going forward.

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