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Would the New Senate Fuel Tax Deal a Death Blow to the Transport Bill?

Eight Democrats yesterday
nearly the entire transportation universe, from road-builders
to transit advocates, to warn the three Senate authors of a new climate
bill against raising gas taxes without using the money for
infrastructure. Their message, translated from the often impenetrable
language of Washington: Imposing new fuel fees that are not routed to
transport projects could torpedo the next long-term federal bill --
which is already on
life support

Kerry_Lieberman_Graham_Hold_Press_Conference_XOA0hQd5O1Kl.jpg(from left) Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman
(I-CT), and John Kerry (D-MA) (Photo: Getty

The climate measure being crafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA),
Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) is not expected to
hit the street until Earth Day later this month. But with Graham indicating
that a significant portion of the legislation's new gas fee would be
repaid to consumers via rebates, the group of eight senators questioned
the effectiveness of adding new fuel charges without attempting to make
the nation's existing infrastructure more efficient.

"While we support your work to develop comprehensive legislation,"
the eight Democratic senators wrote to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, "we
are concerned that your approach may not result in sufficient emission
or oil consumption reductions from the transportation sector and may
inadvertently hinder our efforts to pass a surface transportation
authorization bill this year."

Many details of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman approach remain unclear,
including how much of the revenue raised by the new fuel fee would be
rebated back to taxpayers rather than set aside for other uses. But one
Hill source familiar with the issue said that the very act of raising
gas taxes for non-transportation purposes would be a very bad sign for
future federal reform efforts.

"Raising the gas tax and not putting it towards transportation
will be debilitating to the transportation bill," the source told
Streetsblog Capitol Hill. "At what point is it
debilitating than not? That's hard to say ... We're not going to raise
the gas tax 15, 20 cents
through this linked fee and turn around six months later to [raise it
to] pay for transportation. It's just not going to happen."

To be sure, the transportation industry groups that contacted
Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman this week agree on the need to direct money
raised by any new fuel fees towards the nation's built environment. But
the groups are far from any consensus on how such revenue should be

A coalition of pro-reform forces -- such as Transportation for
America, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and the Complete Streets
Coalition -- urged the three senators to spend carbon fees on helping
states and localities craft long-term land use plans, a framework
outlined in the legislation known informally as "CLEAN

"[B]ecause our federal transportation policy does not currently
support oil savings or greenhouse gas reduction, we have deep concerns
about proposals to deposit funds from sales of carbon permits in the
highway trust fund without additional policies to direct those funds
toward transportation projects that advance our climate and energy
goals," the reform groups wrote in their letter to the senators.

A separate alliance of road and transit industry forces -- such as
the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
(AASHTO), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and
several labor unions -- made no bones about their desire to see any new
carbon taxes go to the perennially
highway trust fund.

"New fees placed on transportation fuels should be dedicated to the
highway trust fund and invested along with other surface transportation
funds under a multi-year highway and transit authorization bill," the
27 industry groups wrote to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, warning that
passage of any new federal transport bill "will be very difficult, if
not impossible
," should a new fuel fee pass without its proceeds
going towards infrastructure.

Three groups signed onto both letters: America Bikes, the League of
American Bicyclists, and the Safe Routes to School National

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