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Even the Godfather of Rail~Volution Wouldn’t Raise the Gas Tax Right Now

9:49 AM PDT on October 19, 2011

At Rail~Volution yesterday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) — also known as the godfather of the “rail~volution” — said even he wouldn’t raise the gas tax right now.

“We should make some adjustments to a gas tax that hasn’t increased since 1993,” Blumenauer said. “Half the people think the gas tax goes up every year.”

He said he’d like to see it indexed to inflation:

In an ideal world, I would not raise the gas tax this year or next year. Come out of this recession, but put in place increases that are going to occur over the next 10 years; have that revenue stream. I would borrow against the revenue stream to take advantage of record low interest rates and a bidding climate like we’ve never seen, fund the president’s infrastructure bank to help move some of these forward, and work toward replacing the gas tax.

He reminded the audience that his state was the first to institute a gas tax, and now Oregon is working to get rid of it and replace it with a vehicle miles traveled fee.

Bill Millar, the outgoing president of the American Public Transit Association (“on Halloween, I turn into a pumpkin!”), said that before switching to a VMT fee, Congress needs to eliminate the federal guarantee, called “equity bonus,” that states will get back at least a certain percentage of what they pay in gas tax receipts. (The GAO recently found that every state actually gets back more than it puts in, thanks to infusions from the general fund, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of states from complaining that they don’t get their fair share.)

“States that encourage more travel get more money back [under the equity bonus system],” Millar said, “so we’ve got to break that cycle too, to make sure instead it’s an inverse relationship and states that give peoplemore choice, more ways to travel, get more federal aid, not less federal aid.”

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