WASHINGTON — Raising the federal fuel tax won’t adequately and fairly pay for future roadway infrastructure needs, argues a new Competitive Enterprise Institute report released Tuesday.
“Our interstate highway system is crucial to promoting commerce and Americans’ quality of life, and lawmakers must decide how to direct $1 trillion in needed rehabilitation and enhancement of that system over the next two decades,” said Marc Scribner, CEI senior fellow and author of the report. “With rising vehicle fuel economy and declining fuel tax revenue per mile traveled, a new approach is needed to support roadway investments.”
The report also highlights the fact that motor fuel taxes are regressive, because lower-income Americans tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient vehicles and thus pay more to drive the same distances.
“Instead, Congress should eliminate barriers to state, local, and private investment, re-evaluate what transportation infrastructure projects truly merit federal support, and transition away from per-gallon taxation toward per-mile road usage fees,” Scribner said.
The report urges Congress and the administration to support crucial reforms for the next federal surface transportation reauthorization, also known as the highway bill. The current law is set to expire at the end of September 2020.
- Reconsider federal priorities. Continue funding highway freight corridors — major roadways used by heavy trucks — but stop funding roadways that are used mostly by state and local residents not engaged in interstate commerce.
- Change how roadways are funded. Instead of a federal fuel tax, switch to a system of mileage-based user fees whereby users are directly charged based on the distances (and perhaps weight of the vehicle) they drive.
- Promote local self-help. Give states increased procurement and operating flexibility by eliminating federal restrictions on tolling state-owned Interstate Highway System segments.
- Harness private investment. Empower states and localities to seek private partners by eliminating the $15 billion lifetime volume cap on private activity bonds used in surface transportation.
- Remove red tape. Take a hard look at procurement, labor, and environmental rules, and eliminate the policies that drive up costs and create delays for no or trivial public benefit.
CEI recommendations are counter to the beliefs of the American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association that an increase in the fuel tax is needed to sustain the Highway Trust Fund.
The report drew the immediate praise of Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, the worldwide association representing toll facility owners and operators and the businesses that serve them.
“The CEI’s report calling on Congress to embrace alternative sources of transportation funding like tolling and a mileage-based user fee is a welcome addition to the growing chorus of voices speaking out in support of new ways to invest and fund our nation’s infrastructure,” Jones said. “The Highway Trust Fund is insolvent, and Congress continues to use billions of dollars in general purpose funds to keep it limping along. The gas tax is unsustainable and continues to fall well short in paying for our roads, bridges and tunnels. Our underfunding and under investment in our nation’s infrastructure is showing in degraded roadways, deteriorating bridges on the 60-year-old interstate system and other highways across America. If we continue to do nothing, or do not properly invest in our infrastructure, the U.S. economy and drivers will continue to suffer, slipping further behind as a world leader.”
According to the organization’s website, CEI is a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise and individual liberty. CEI said its mission is to promote both freedom and fairness by making good policy good politics.
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