Skip to Content
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Log In
Federal Transportation Bill

Would the New Senate Fuel Tax Deal a Death Blow to the Transport Bill?

Eight Democrats yesterday joined
nearly the entire transportation universe, from road-builders to
transit advocates, to warn the three Senate authors of a new climate
bill against raising gas taxes without using the money for
infrastructure. Their message, translated from the often impenetrable
language of Washington: Imposing new fuel fees that are not routed to
transport projects could torpedo the next long-term federal bill --
which is already on life support.

Kerry_Lieberman_Graham_Hold_Press_Conference_XOA0hQd5O1Kl.jpg(from left) Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and John Kerry (D-MA) (Photo: Getty Images)

The
climate measure being crafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey
Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) is not expected to hit the
street until Earth Day later this month. But with Graham indicating
that a significant portion of the legislation's new gas fee would be
repaid to consumers via rebates, the group of eight senators questioned
the effectiveness of adding new fuel charges without attempting to make
the nation's existing infrastructure more efficient.

"While
we support your work to develop comprehensive legislation," the eight
Democratic senators wrote to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, "we are
concerned that your approach may not result in sufficient emission or
oil consumption reductions from the transportation sector and may
inadvertently hinder our efforts to pass a surface transportation
authorization bill this year."

Many details of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman approach
remain unclear, including how much of the revenue raised by the new
fuel fee would be rebated back to taxpayers rather than set aside for
other uses. But one Hill source familiar with the issue said that the
very act of raising gas taxes for non-transportation purposes would be
a very bad sign for future federal reform efforts.

"Raising the gas tax and not putting it towards transportation
will be debilitating to the transportation bill," the source told Streetsblog Capitol Hill. "At what point is it
less
debilitating than not? That's hard to say ... We're not going to raise
the gas tax 15, 20 cents
through this linked fee and turn around six months later to [raise it
to] pay for transportation. It's just not going to happen."

To
be sure, the transportation industry groups that contacted Kerry,
Graham, and Lieberman this week agree on the need to direct money
raised by any new fuel fees towards the nation's built environment. But
the groups are far from any consensus on how such revenue should be
spent.

A coalition of pro-reform forces -- such as
Transportation for America, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and the
Complete Streets Coalition -- urged the three senators to spend carbon
fees on helping states and localities craft long-term land use plans, a
framework outlined in the legislation known informally as "CLEAN TEA."

"[B]ecause
our federal transportation policy does not currently support oil
savings or greenhouse gas reduction, we have deep concerns about
proposals to deposit funds from sales of carbon permits in the highway
trust fund without additional policies to direct those funds toward
transportation projects that advance our climate and energy goals," the
reform groups wrote in their letter to the senators.

A
separate alliance of road and transit industry forces -- such as the
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
(AASHTO), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and
several labor unions -- made no bones about their desire to see any new
carbon taxes go to the perennially cash-strapped highway trust fund.

"New
fees placed on transportation fuels should be dedicated to the highway
trust fund and invested along with other surface transportation funds
under a multi-year highway and transit authorization bill," the 27
industry groups wrote to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, warning that
passage of any new federal transport bill "will be very difficult, if not impossible," should a new fuel fee pass without its proceeds going towards infrastructure.

Three
groups signed onto both letters: America Bikes, the League of American
Bicyclists, and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog Los Angeles

Long Beach Leads in Traffic Circles

Traffic circles aren't quite ubiquitous in Long Beach, but they're around. Riding and walking through the city one encounters circles in neighborhoods rich and poor, new and old.

July 12, 2024

Metro and Caltrans Still Planning 605 Expansion, Plus Four Connecting Freeways

Metro and Caltrans are planning to spend billions of dollars widening the 605, 5, 10, 60 and 105 Freeways. Really.

July 10, 2024
See all posts