Today, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) went into overdrive to name Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) its December Porker of the Month for his desire to increase the federal gas tax. The congressman careened into a fiscal ditch during a December 3, 2013 appearance on “Your World with Neil Cavuto” when he pedaled his bill, H.R. 3636, the UPDATE Act of 2013, would increase the federal gas tax from the current 18.4 cents per gallon to 33.4 cents per gallon.
Rep. Blumenauer said, “Because we have just sort of run the gas tax trust fund down to where it is approaching zero, if we don’t do something in the next ten months, we’re going to face an inability to fund any transit funding next year, and the federal highway funding will drop 92 percent. It’s time to face up.”
Rep. Blumenauer is right about one thing: the 58-year-old Highway Trust Fund is at or near fiscal exhaustion. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s July 23, 2013 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Highways, the trust fund will be unable to meet all of its obligations beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2015. Congress has already transferred $41 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund since 2008 and has approved an additional transfer of $12.6 billion for FY 2014.
The trust fund deficit has occurred as a result of fewer drivers on the roads, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and past transportation earmarks. In 2006, the Congressional Research Service reported that between fiscal years 1996 and 2005, the number of transportation appropriations earmarks jumped by more than 1,150 percent, from 167 in FY 1996 to 2,094 in FY 2005, while the dollar value rose by more than 314 percent, from $789 million in FY 1996 to about $3.27 billion in FY 2005. On top of those earmarks, the transportation reauthorization bill that Congress approved in 2005 included $24.5 billion earmarks, including the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska.
Beginning in 1992, Congress authorized funding streams for cycling and pedestrian activities and projects. Rep. Blumenauer, as the founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, has been a vocal proponent of diverting more federal transportation funds toward local bicycle-related projects. According to the Federal Highway Administration, between FYs 1992 and 2013, taxpayers have coughed up $9.5 billion for pedestrian and bicycle-related projects. The most recent transportation funding bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), passed by Congress in 2012, included another $808 million for such projects.
Instead of raising the gas tax and funding more unneeded projects, Congress should refocus the trust fund’s resources toward maintaining and upgrading federal highways only, and devolve control and resources associated with local and regional projects back to the states. In fact, MAP-21 allows more direct access to funds for bike and pedestrian projects, and local officials have already recognized the upside of this greater local control.
Rep. Blumenauer’s drive to raise the gas tax, pump additional money into the Highway Trust Fund, and cycle even more taxpayer dollars toward bike paths, makes him CAGW’s December Porker of the Month.