EPI Calls for Raising Gas Tax to Fund Infrastructure Improvements

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

            WASHINGTON (PAI)—Saying “there is no free lunch or road or bridge,” in paying to fix or improve the nation’s roads, bridges, subways, buses, airports and other infrastructure, the Economic Policy Institute is calling for raising the federal gas tax, retaining the key federal role and funding for such projects – and for keeping worker rights as part of the package.

            Those positions, laid out by EPI President Thea Lee at a March 7 House Transportation panel hearing, agree with those of transportation, building trades and other unions, but fly in the face of the anti-tax, anti-worker, anti-federal orthodoxy of Congress’s ruling Republicans.

            Lawmakers called two sessions on the GOP Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion 10-year infrastructure outline. Lee was the only witness the Democratic minority was allowed to invite.

            The day before, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao discussed Trump’s blueprint, while the other witnesses seated with Lee were from industry, state highway departments or business.

          The Trump plan features no increase in the gas tax and 80 percent state and local funding – with the rest in so-called “private-public partnerships.” Workers and their congressional allies contend that would funnel the infrastructure money into the pockets of Wall Street financiers and not into rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, subways and airports.

            Lee said the federal gas tax, at 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn’t risen since 1993. Its revenues chronically fall short of money needed just to repair roads, bridges and subways and keep buses running. She urged a gas tax hike as a first, but not only, step.

            “Our research at EPI indicates strongly that reversing this chronic underinvestment in infrastructure will require a strong federal role and a commitment of federal resources,” Lee added, taking direct aim at Trump’s plan. Right now, states and cities “finance a large share of infrastructure, particularly highways and transit. This…strategy led us to the current situation, which virtually everybody agrees” is inadequate or worse.

            “Infrastructure done right would boost job creation as well as the long-run productivity of the American economy,” said Lee, the former longtime chief policy analyst for the AFL-CIO.

            If Congress doesn’t want to raise the gas tax, there are other alternatives, she noted. They include imposing user fees tied to how many miles a vehicle travels. “But the most important goal is simply to provide the resources needed to keep highway and transit investments from being strangled,” she commented.

            Turning over funding to private-public partnerships doesn’t work, either, Lee said. It doesn’t provide enough money at low interest rates, it leaves the states and cities on the hook and it sacrifices worker protections – and the efficiencies that come with them. “Advocates of ‘leveraging the private sector’ obscure or underplay this basic economic truth,” Lee said.

            “Federally funded infrastructure investment is more likely to incorporate requirements for strong labor standards — ensuring it supports good jobs with good wages. Plans that lean more heavily on private financing should not be used as an excuse to ignore labor standards. If they did, these plans would likely see fewer good jobs created through infrastructure invest-ments. Infrastructure projects that pay good wages have durable benefits for communities and local tax bases, unlike those that seek to undermine decent wages and standards.” 



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