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April 2013

Pub Perspective: The Congress that won't listen

We have an amazing situation in Washington. We have a majority in Congress and an Administration that says they want to help business as well as grow the U.S. economy.

Yet, when the most important groups that represent business say they want Congress to raise the gasoline tax to pay for more highway and public transportation projects, these members of Congress and the president continue to ignore business on this issue.

Most of the major groups representing business, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the truckers, as well as organized labor and the environmental community, have for years been in favor of a gasoline tax increase to fund a larger transportation program. At least two bipartisan policy efforts have also recommended a balanced approach to reduce the federal debt and deficit that also includes increased federal spending on highway and public transportation projects to help boost the economy. This spending would be paid for by a gas tax increase.

It’s an old formula
In fact, the only real difference among these groups is that some would use part of any gas tax increase to help pay down the debt, the way that both Bill Clinton’s and George H.W. Bush’s budgets did in the late 1980s and 1990s. The result was the largest expansion of transit funding in history, as well as budget surpluses and a booming economy.

Local communities throughout the country continue to favor this idea, with additional taxes to fund transit expansions, in the form of voter-approved referenda — even in midst of the Great Recession. Even in the last election, more than 70% of these initiatives passed — which continues a winning streak that is beginning to sound like very old news. Most of these continue to be supported by the local business community, which sees these taxes as a small price to pay for better communities and bigger local economies. In other words, they see the good return on investment.

The madness must stop
So why won’t Congress and the president see the same thing? Yes, a gas tax increase would not be worth as much as it used to be, because people continue to drive less and/or drive more fuel-efficient cars. But, a modest tax increase is at least better than a smaller program, which is what we are facing if the no-tax, sequester, governing-by-created-crisis madness continues to bleed a program that used to have bipartisan support. It still does, at the local level.

The election is over. Let’s get to work.   


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