Citing the need for highway infrastructure improvements, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat who represents Broward and Palm Beach counties, said Friday the federal gasoline tax should be increased.
He called for a “slight increase” in the federal tax, which is currently 18.4 cents a gallon. He didn’t say how much. State gas taxes are separate.
Hastings spoke – going off script – at a Fort Lauderdale event with U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. They were gathered to tout highway projects funded by the stimulus package enacted early in Barack Obama’s presidency.
Here’s what Hastings said when he got to the mic:
“Let me separate from the secretary and Debbie and Lois and any other congressional representative and take on what I think the consumer needs to understand.
“We’ve been very fortunate in the last year to see gas prices come down. Part of the reason – and I’m speaking only for myself, I want to make that very clear – a part of the reason that the highway trust fund is going belly up is because there has not been an increase in the gas tax.
“If we are successful and it appears that we may be in continuing our efforts to cause gas prices to come down, than it would be my position that we can have some slight increase in the federal gas tax in an effort to try to do the things that are necessary for our infrastructure.
“I’m speaking for me. I want to make sure that [is clear]. When you mention taxes, everyone gets scared…. I don’t feel that way. I think all of us have a responsibility to take some of the weight. We use those roads. We ought to pay for them.”
The last increase in the federal gas tax, which goes into the highway trust fund to pay for transportation infrastructure, was in 1993.
Frankel, Wasserman Schultz and Foxx didn’t embrace Hastings’s stand.
The transportation secretary said he supported the Obama administration’s effort to increase taxes in another way, by linking “corporate tax reform to infrastructure investment.”
Wasserman Schultz urged caution. “We have to be very careful how we calibrate and how we pay for transportation funding.”
She said she’s heard from small business owners in her district that when fuel prices were rising it made it harder for them to maintain employment levels, because it was another addition to the cost of doing business.
“Any time you increase gas prices it impacts the bottom line of business and families,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz and Frankel said they liked the idea of using changes to corporate taxes to get more money for highways.
Frankel was somewhat more sympathetic to the notion of a gas tax increase, but didn’t endorse it.
A member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, she called herself “open minded” to almost any potential compromise plan that could get lots of support for highway money from both Democrats and Republicans.
“We need to fund the highway trust fund. There are a number of different options of how to do it. From my point of view, whatever we can get the majority to go along with, you can probably count on me,” Frankel said.
Transportation needs more money, she said.
“Unless and until there are a lot of drones coming in, everybody is dependent on road transportation in some way, whether you drive a car or not because that’s how, basically, your goods get delivered, how people get delivered to places,” Frankel said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun