Trucking, road builders groups oppose legislation to sharply reduce federal gas tax

The American Trucking Associations and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association oppose legislation introduced by two Republican lawmakers that would significantly reduce the federal gas tax.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah sponsored the Transportation Empowerment Act legislation this week. They said it would reform the nation’s transportation policy by reducing the federal gas tax and giving states the flexibility to use transportation dollars where they see fit to fix roads and bridges.

The legislation gradually reduces the federal gasoline tax over five years from 18.3 cents a gallon to 3.7 cents a gallon, collecting enough revenue for the federal government to maintain interstate highways and transportation projects.

DeSantis said in a statement his legislation would modernize federal transportation policy without constant patches to the Highway Trust Fund. In addition, Lee said the interstate highway system was completed decades ago, drivers are buying less fuel, and the federal government has wasted far too much money on non-highway projects.

Darrin Roth, vice president of highway policy at the American Trucking Associations in Arlington, Va., argues the legislation will put the onus on the nation’s truck drivers.

“This legislation still calls for a 5 cents per gallon diesel tax that’s paid by truck drivers,” he said. “We support about two thirds of the Highway Trust Fund already so it appears we’re a target of this legislation.”

According to the most recent figures available in 2013, the trucking industry paid $16.5 billion into the Highway Trust Fund through diesel taxes, which represents 44 percent of the total monies in the fund.

Eileen Houlihan, a spokeswoman with the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), said in a written statement to TI News Daily, “The ARTBA does not agree with the idea of eliminating the federal gas tax. ARTBA’s Getting Beyond Gridlock funding proposal actually calls for an increase in the federal fuel tax along with an offsetting tax rebate for lower-income Americans.”

Additionally, with the reduction or elimination of the federal gas tax, states might increase their gas taxes to make up the difference. But Houlihan said there is concern some states might not increase gas taxes, thereby exacerbating the poor condition of the nation’s highway system.

“If the federal fuels tax was eliminated, the result would be that states would be forced to raise their own taxes equivalent to the amount of revenue they receive from federal funds, or slash their road, bridge and transit improvement program,” Houlihan said.

Roth added, “Montana, for example, would have to raise their state gas tax by 44.5 cents per gallon, making their tax among the highest in the country.”

DeSantis and Lee did not immediately respond to requests for comment.