It’s time

As I drove past my local gas station in Wisconsin this morning, the price of gasoline was just under $2 - $1.97 to be precise. It’s been a while since fuel prices have been this low, and that’s how I know it’s time.

It’s time to raise the gas tax and get serious about fixing America’s roads.

The federal excise tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gas and 24.4 cents on diesel has not been increased since 1993, which has caused the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to teeter on the brink of collapse for the last several years.

It’s time to adjust the gas tax for 22 years of inflation. It would take 30 cents today to purchase what 18 cents bought in 1993, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

Our country’s deteriorating road system cost users billions through delays, extra fuel costs and car repair bills.

Some lawmakers recognize it’s time for raising the gas tax. Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., proposed increasing the tax last year, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the new chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, has said he is willing to consider it. At least the option is on the table.

Many states, including Michigan and Iowa, are discussing the option as well. Unfortunately, in my own home state of Wisconsin, Gov. Walker is distancing himself from a gas tax hike proposed by his transportation secretary, saying he’s not “keen” on the idea.

Unfortunately, many people are not “keen” on increasing the gas tax. President Obama would prefer to find the money for roads and other infrastructure by closing corporate tax loops. That would involve an overhaul on tax policy and take more time than we have.

Gas prices have fallen more than 40% since the end of June. A slight increase in the gas tax phased in over a few months or a year would be barely noticeable to most Americans.

According to a recent editorial in The New York Times, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated last year that Congress would have to raise fuel taxes by between 10 and 15 cents a gallon to meet all of the obligations of the HTF. According the editorial, if lawmakers went with a 15-cent hike, it would add just $3 to the cost of a 20-gallon fill-up once the increase was fully phased in. 

That seems a small price to pay to get America’s road system back on track and keep our country from falling behind. I hope our legislators can find the courage to do the right thing. It’s time.