House transportation chair nixes idea of raising fuel taxes, shows support for mileage tax

Shuster speaking to an audience at an infrastructure conference earlier this week. (Photo from Bloomberg)Shuster speaking to an audience at an infrastructure conference earlier this week. (Photo from Bloomberg)

The chairman of the Houses Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), said at transportation conference this week that he does not support raising fuel taxes to pay for highways and instead voiced support for implementing a mileage tax.

Trucking groups, including the American Trucking Associations, have long been proponents of raising taxes on fuel as a means to fund U.S. roads.

Shuster was speaking at an event held by Bloomberg Government in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, where he also said he hopes to pass a five- or six-year bill as opposed to a just a two-year bill. The current MAP-21 bill expires Sept. 30.

“Economically, it is not the time [to raise the fuel tax],” Shuster said, according to a report from NATSO. “I just don’t believe the American people have the will out there, in the public or in Congress, even our president has said we’re not going to do that. We’ve got to figure out a different way at this point in time.”

As Bloomberg points out, though, and as Shuster’s comments show, disputes over how to fund the highway bill are likely to arise, even though the Department of Transportation expects for the Highway Trust Fund to be empty by late summer.

A tax on mileage, also known as Vehicle Mileage Tax, was last considered by Congress in December 2012, when Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced a bill that would create a program similar to Oregon’s VMT pilot program.

Objections to a mileage tax, however, stem from questions over administration: How mileage would be tracked and any privacy issues that may arise from devices that would be placed on vehicles to track mileage for purposes of taxation.

In December 2013, Blumenauer introduced another bill in the House that would — in an attempted short-term funding measure — raise the per-gallon fuel tax by 15 cents.

ATA lauded the bill, as its former chief lobbyist Mary Phillips then reiterated the group’s support for a fuel tax increase. “Our support for raising the fuel tax should clearly demonstrate just how critical good roads are for moving freight, commuters, vacationers and shoppers,” Phillips said in December.

As CCJ‘s Kevin Jones reported last month, DOT head Anthony Foxx projected the HTF to see a shortfall by the end of the fiscal year and urged Congress to act to tackle what he called a widening “infrastructure deficit.”

In a hearing held to gather testimony for crafting the next highway bill, governors and mayors from around the country also pressed Congress to take necessary action to find adequate transportation funding.

Click here to see all of CCJ‘s recent coverage of infrastructure funding.

The House transportation committee is also holding a hearing next week — Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. — to talk public-private partnerships and their role in transportation funding, economic development and other infrastructure projects.