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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis February 7, 2014
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Shuster Supports Vehicle Miles Traveled to Fund Next MAP-21

As Congressional leaders search for ways to develop a long-term federal transportation bill to replace MAP-21, which expires Sept. 30, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) said he supports a vehicle miles tax (VMT), among other user fees, to pay for a bill that would extend for at least five years. He also rejected the notion of raising the nation’s motor fuels tax (more commonly called the gasoline tax), which currently funds the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and its Mass Transit Account.

“We don’t want a two-year bill, we want a five- or six-year bill,” Shuster said Feb. 4 at a Bloomberg Government infrastructure event in Washington, DC. Other funding methods Shuster supported include higher taxes on energy exploration and bringing back corporate profits earned overseas.

Officials have never considered a VMT at the federal level because of the difficulty of tracking the number of miles people drive, which is necessary to assess and collect the tax.

Revenue from the motor fuels tax, which has remained unchanged at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993 and is not indexed to inflation, has declined since 2007 because of the down economy, a decline in miles driven, and an increase in cars that are more fuel-efficient. Raising the existing tax in an election year remains an issue, lawmakers from both parties say.

Proposals on the Table
Still, lawmakers in both houses of Congress have introduced bills to fund the transportation bill. In December Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucasus, proposed a bill that would increase the gas tax by 15 cents a gallon over three years.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, proposed in September replacing the motor fuels tax with a levy paid on oil at refineries. She and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the ranking Republican on the committee, are working on a joint bill but the two have not yet agreed on a method for increasing revenue.

The State of the HTF
The federal government might have to delay some payments to states before the fiscal year ends in September, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Feb. 4 in updating the financial status of the HTF.

The CBO’s new budget baseline projections show that the HTF has a deficit of $77 billion through 2019 and is short by $172 billion through 2024, even at current levels. The fund and its Mass Transit Account will not have enough funds to meet the federal government’s obligations starting in Fiscal Year 2015. Under current law, the HTF cannot incur negative balances and is not authorized to borrow funds.
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