The Metro Council and an infleuntial transportation policy group are set to consider whether to support draft legislation from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., to pay for transportation improvements through a revamped gas tax.
The bill, called the Update, Promote, and Develop America's Transportation Essentials Act of 2013 would raise money for transportation infrastructure by nearly doubling the federal gas tax, from 18.4 cents to 33.4 cents per gallon.
Federal gas taxes would be phased out in the decade after passage, with Congress looking at "a more equitable, stable source of funding by 2024," according to a report on the bill.
Between the start of the hike to 33.4 cents and 2024, the gas tax would be pegged to inflation. The federal gas tax was last raised in 1993, and has not been adjusted for inflation since.
The proposal comes as gas prices are plummeting across the United States, with average prices at their lowest rate since February 2011.
It also comes as the country grapples with a decrease in transportation funding nationwide, a decrease that has states and cities scrambling to cover needs the federal government once largely subsidized.
Meanwhile, Congress took more than $50 billion from the federal general fund to pay for the most recent federal transportation bill, which expires at the end of 2014. About $15 billion a year would be needed to cover ongoing commitments after 2014, the report from Blumenauer's office said.
In a draft letter of support, set to be considered by the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation at its Thursday morning meeting, and by the Metro Council as early as its scheduled Thursday retreat, regional leaders urge Blumenauer to introduce the draft legislation.
The letter is in its discussion draft form and has not been approved by JPACT or the Metro Council.
"In addition to your stated objective of ensuring adequate funding for transportation infrastructure, your proposal would have the additional benefit of contributing to long-term deficit reduction, both by eliminating the need to transfer general fund dollars to the Highway Trust Fund and by more broadly supporting America’s economic prosperity," the draft letter says.
Oregon leaders have for years been trying to address how increasing fuel efficiency leads to lower gas tax collections, with a per-mile fee for driving often discussed as a favored approach to replacing the gas tax. A pilot project was authorized by the Legislature in 2013.
Blumenauer's draft legislation doesn't spell out what the post-gas tax world would look like, but the report accompanying the draft says the UPDATE Act would "set the stage for a transition for a long-term, stable funding source that will replace the gas tax."