Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 27, 2015

Murphy, Corker Call for 12-Cent Gas Tax Boost for Highway Bill

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 2:37 p.m. | Sens. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., are proposing a 12-cent increase in the gas tax to pay for a renewal of highway and transit programs, which could run out of funding by the end of the month.

“Reaction on the Democratic side has been positive,” said Murphy, who noted he spoke with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about the plan.

“I think on our side of the aisle we recognize that it’s time to stop talking theoretically and start talking really in practical terms,” Murphy said, adding that bipartisan support is key to getting the plan through the chamber.

But it’s unclear if a substantial number of the Republican Conference will embrace the idea.

“We will see,” Corker said when asked how his GOP colleagues would react.

One big GOP selling point was that the tax increase would not violate the Americans for Tax Reform pledge if it is paired with a provision making some popular tax breaks that are typically part of the tax extenders package permanent.

According to Corker, the list of tax breaks includes: the research and development tax credit; Section 179 expensing, a tax break encouraging small businesses to by business equipment; the deduction of state and local sale taxes; the deduction of up to $250 in classroom expenses that teachers paid for out of their own pocket; a subsidy for mass transit and benefits given for land donated for conservation purposes.

“If you just took those, we do them each year, but you make them permanent; I don’t think there is anybody that disputes making those permanent, by the way, that alone would generate $189 billion in savings over the next 10 years,” Corker said. “So if the Finance Committee chose to link this … with that … you would not be violating the pledge.”

The 12-cent increase would raise $164 billion over 10 years, Corker said.

Using the tax break extension to offset a gas tax increase would, however, take away the ability to use those same tax breaks to buy down tax rates as part of a future tax reform package.

The White House has threatened to veto permanent tax cut extensions, but it’s not clear if they would oppose them if paired with a gas tax hike.

The White House has not backed a gas tax hike previously and has instead proposed using short term revenue from corporate tax reform to pay for the highway bill.

The two senators hope to build support for the plan over the summer, particularly with the Finance Committee, which will draft the funding plan for the highway bill, and the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees transportation policy.

“We haven’t introduced it as formal legislation yet because we acknowledge that ultimately this is going to be passed as part of a package coming out of the Finance Committee and EPW Committee,” Murphy said.

They don’t expect any action until after the elections. In the meantime, they believe Congress will pass a short-term patch to keep transportation programs funded through the end of the year.

“The same thing will happen this summer that’s happened the last [few] times,” Corker said. “That is, that some gimmick will be created to make it look like its being paid for when its actually not.”

Along with raising the federal gasoline and diesel taxes by six cents in each of the next two years for a total of 12 cents, the plan would also index the gas tax to inflation, using the Consumer Price Index to ensure that it remains viable into the future.

The plan would raise enough to provide enough funding to offset current MAP-21 spending levels over the next 10 years and replace all of the buying power the federal gas tax has lost since it was last raised in 1993.

“This modest increase will pay dividends in the long run and I encourage my colleagues to get behind this bipartisan proposal,” Murphy said.

Both Murphy and Corker said they didn’t support a possible House plan to use reforming the postal service to fund the highway bill.

“I think it’s a gimmick,” Murphy said. “The point of our proposal is to try to solve this problem for the long-term.”
“Only in Washington would you take money from one insolvent enterprise to fund another insolvent enterprise,” Corker said.

The senators’ bipartisan proposal was criticized by the conservative Club for Growth.

“This is a $164 billion dollar tax increase, plain and simple. A gas tax hike would be both bad policy and terribly anti-growth,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “It’s not an example of political courage to avoid reforming a broken system. Instead of standing up to the special interests who feast on the chronically bankrupt Highway Trust Fund year after year, Senator Corker and Senator Murphy have essentially decided that throwing more money into a black hole is a good path forward. It’s not. Rather than perpetuate this failed system, Congress should devolve highway funding to the states and let them fund their own infrastructure needs.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

  • jschmidt2

    If Murphy gets his state Connecticut to lower the state gas tax by the same amount since we already have one of the highest taxes in the country, 60% of which is moved to the general fund, not for roads, then go ahead. But CT is having enough taxes and will hopefully be booting out the tax happy Democrats in the state.

    • Herb Fridge

      See the above post.

      • jhs

        well it is called negotiation. Something Harry Reid refused to do. Perhaps the new Republican Congress will. and there are state gas taxes on top of the Federal that CT Democrat controlled government can change, but won’t.

  • pitch1934

    We use the roads, the bridges and the like. Somebody has to pay, why not us. But, and this is a big BUT, make sure that the wealthy corporations pay their fair share and that they do not pass it on to us. Can you do that, you #%$^&@#?

  • oreally

    how about some of the record profits that the oil companies make? why do they never get touched? oh, i forgot. they have to pay the congress so that they don’t get touched

  • Jack Everett

    What happened to the highway fund we already have? It certainly has not been spent on highways and bridges.

    • A Semper Fi Marine

      They have ROBBED this fund to pay for “other” pet projects tht have NOTHING to do with our highways and bridge infrastructure, as a result we have a deteriorating system that now needs BILLIONS in immediate $$$$$.

  • Bobby

    How about we quit wasting the money on absurd mass transit projects. Let the mass transit projects pay into the trust fund for once….quit making me pay for all the roads and the rail.

  • X13sy5ui5i5ktykfxxxxxxxxxh

    According to the conservative leaning Tax Foundation, Connecticut receives the least amount of Federal money, towards it’s state budget in the northeastern USA, and among the smallest in the whole country. Even tax-free New Hampshire receives more Federal funds than Connecticut. Mr. Murphy, do your job and get us our fair share of Federal funds. Connecticut is #2 in property taxes, where I pay 15% of my income to West Haven, and I know others who even have a heavier local tax burden than me. Mr. Murphy, you are just piling onto regressive taxation, for which Connecticut already has too much of.

    • Bobby

      how about we just let CT manage its roads and they can charge whatever the heck they want for their gas tax and me and mine will do likewise. Let the feds stick to just maintaining the interstate routes.

      • jschmidt2

        Since ct alrèady has smoke of the highest gas taxes in the country, 60% going to the general rail fund not roads is tolls on the interstates to hit truckers and commuters. And also I believe part of the gas tax goes to mass transit.

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  • docb

    Maybe corker &co could get rid of the Big Oil and Farm subsidies and have his donors pay real taxes instead of offshore their profits! This is utter BS and avoidance putting the burden on the middle class and poor of course!

    • Herb Fridge

      That would require new law be enacted by the GOP which has just been control of both houses of Congress. That is like asking a spoiled big child to share. It aint gonna happen.

  • A Semper Fi Marine

    Am I the ONLY ONE who took note that the “proposed” offsets – as follows: “According to Corker, the list of tax breaks includes: the research and development tax credit; Section 179 expensing, a tax break encouraging small businesses to by business equipment; the deduction of state and local sale taxes; the deduction of up to $250 in classroom expenses that teachers paid for out of their own pocket; a subsidy for mass transit and benefits given for land donated for conservation purposes”. Ordinary Taxpaying citizens don’t seem to be included in here – except MAYBE the deductions of State and local Taxes. So if you don’t file long form, OH WELL!
    This is ANOTHER LIE by the Congress to attempt to STEAL OUR MONEY. I say – hold them accountable to first stop STEALING from the Highway fund to get PORK Projects – NO MORE TAXES – NO MORE TAXATION! You’ve Squeezed me enough – I feel like a shriveled prune or wrung out sponge. NO MORE!

    Just my Take

  • A Semper Fi Marine

    Just saw on a Gas Pump YESTERDAY – $ 18.4 Cents per Gallon Federal Tax, $ 18 Cents per Gallon State Tax (AZ) and $ .01 Cent per gallon Underground Tank Tax (Whatever the Hell THAT means). I think when the Feds mandated a replacement of ALL underground tanks a few years back, gotta pay for it.

    Bottom Line – $0.364 Per Gallon in Taxes ALREADY!

    Just my Take

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    These two can forget re-election.

  • Herb Fridge

    However they propose to raise funds for the roads and bridges, the GOP TP will attach some tax giveaways to the Top end and Obama will and should Veto any such bill.

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