How many of you out there think that we would be well-advised to spend some money repairing our roads and bridges? What about our locks and dams and seaports that carry our grain to countries around the world? Are you aware that our Federal Highways Trust Fund will be running out of money this spring? What should we do?
Our roads are in serious need of repair. Some of our bridges are not safe. One of this country’s greatest advantages in competing with other countries for market share happens to be our infrastructure. Whether we are talking about roads, rail, or water, we have been able to compete with anyone. We’re going to fall behind if we don’t take care of our transportation system.
The timing is right. We’re pumping oil and gas like never before. The world is awash in oil. Gasoline prices at the pump have dropped almost 50%. See where I’m going? We could raise the federal gas tax. It stands now at 18.4 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised in more than 20 years. If you don’t want to call it a tax, call it a “user fee.” We use our roads, bridges, and waterways. Their upkeep is not free. A “user fee” is fair. When gasoline prices were pushing $4 per gallon, politically this idea wouldn’t sell, but we have a new equation now. With a sharp drop in gasoline prices, now under $2 per gallon in half of our pumps, let’s get it done.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said, “If we’re going to do it, now is the time.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) supports an increase in the tax.
To some, this might sound like a “no brainer,” and I think it is. However, getting this accomplished will not be easy. I called it a “user fee” but when you call it a tax increase, a lot of members of Congress get nervous. Will their constituents make them pay a price in the next election? The Members need to do what is right for the country. I feel that with the collapse in gas prices, the voters will support the investment. It would also be a good idea to tie the increase to inflation. Then we wouldn’t have to come back for more money in the next few years.
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.