The number of Republicans historically who have backed increasing taxes—any form of taxation—as a primary measure for increasing Federal revenue in order to fund Federal programs can be logged on the fingers of one’s right hand. The new Congress that the U.S. has given to itself does not look like it will be starting to count off on the left.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Hollidaysburg), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, issued a statement in which he declared that while passing a highway funding bill will be a top priority for the coming Congressional session, he is ruling out a gasoline tax increase and motorist user fees as methods of getting it done.
“The president has ruled out a gas tax [increase],” Shuster said. “I don’t think there’s a will in Congress, and the American people don’t want it.”
Shuster prefers a vehicle-miles-traveled tax as an alternative to besting the present 18.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax, despite numerous overtures made by former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell that an increase to the gas tax is not only long overdue but is also the most efficient and dependable means of securing the money needed to keep the country’s roads and bridges in good shape. Shuster, however, points to fuel efficient vehicles that use less gas as the reason why per-gallon taxing matters less than per-mile taxing.
A VMT tax “was never really on the table,” Shuster said, which would seem to preclude any initial discussion when his committee takes up the conversation early next year. Rather, offshore oil exploration and federal land exploration of the same have been suggested by the chairman as better means of fund sourcing, though critics are quick to point out such a plan’s lack of long-term dependability and scoff at what they see as yet another GOP tactic for drilling on protected lands for oil. Moreover, the methodology behind precisely how a per-mile tax would be designed, implemented and monitored seems, at this point, to be anyone’s guess.
Despite the seeming closed door on this issue, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) does see a ray of light. “We may not always be 100% in agreement, but I have no doubt we will get big things done,” DeFazio recently told the Associated Press. Defazio supports wholesale oil taxes.
And what’s more Shuster’s record in Pennsylvania may likewise offer a beacon of optimism for the coming session. Known for getting the state federal project dollars by earmarking them to local projects (though such earmarks are not banned in Congress), Shuster also acceded to improvements on I-95 and the expansion of I-81 from four lanes to six, both stretches being crucial arteries through the state.
“This is not my father's Congress,” Shuster said, with subtle magnanimity. “When my father wrote a bill, the economy was strong and we didn't have the kind of deficits today. So we try and move the ball forward. And if it's good policy, it's going to be good for the nation[.]”