As published by Keith Laing in The Hill
Unions seek to protect federal gas tax
A top labor union is fighting to save the federal gas tax, arguing that eliminating it would ruin the nation’s transportation system.
The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) said Friday that without the gas tax the nation would be left with a “patchwork system of state plans and revenue agendas … incapable of meeting the multimodal demands of a 21st century economy.”
The 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of transportation funding for decades, but conservative groups have pushed to eliminate it in an effort to transfer responsibility for planning transportation projects to state and local governments.
AFL-CIO TTD President Ed Wytkind said that proposal, known as devolution, “is completely blind to the realities of our complex and multimodal system.”
“The Transportation Construction Coalition reported this month that devolution would force states to raise their gas taxes by an average of 23.5 cents per gallon just to maintain their current levels of highway, bridge, and transit investment,” he wrote in a blog post on the labor group’s website.
“Some states, including Montana, Vermont, and Rhode Island, would be looking at hikes in excess of 40 cents per gallon, and Alaskans would be looking at a full dollar increase,” Wytkind continued.
The future of the gas tax has been the subject of debate in Washington for months as lawmakers struggle to come up with a way to extend transportation funding that is currently scheduled to expire in May.
The gas tax has been the main source of federal transportation funding since the 1930s but it has not been increased since 1993. Revenue has also been sapped in recent years by improvements in auto fuel efficiency.
The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings $34 billion annually at its current rate.
Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the $16 billion gap.
Conservative groups say the solution to the transportation funding crunch is to eliminate the gas tax and turn responsibility for construction projects over to states. They warn that otherwise the deficit will continue to grow.
Transportation advocates have argued the gas tax should be increased, not eliminated, to help close the gap.
Wytkind said Friday that “it’s time to put devolution and other unrealistic ideas to rest and to find an effective long-term funding solution.”
“It continues to be a mystery to me that some conservatives continue to push this hare-brained scheme,” he wrote. “With our nation’s transportation system — the very backbone of our economy — at risk, we don’t have time to waste.