by John Horsley, AASHTO Executive Director
Reports of record oil company profits and foreign oil suppliers' lack of concern with the impact of soaring gas prices on our economy have provoked anger and frustration among many Americans. But a recommendation unlikely to help them is the proposal by two presidential candidates to suspend the federal gas tax for the summer.
The federal gas tax, which represents about 5% of the current price of regular gas, has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. The gas tax is the one part of the price per gallon that is invested here at home to benefit the traveling public by funding road construction and maintenance, and transit.
If the gas tax suspension did go into effect, experts estimate that the typical motorist would save $28 dollars for the summer, less than the cost of half a tank of gas. What the tax suspension would cost the Federal Highway Trust Fund, however, is nearly $9 billion in revenues. That could be offset through transfers from the General Fund, but that would drive up the deficit by an additional $9 billion. Many question whether jeopardizing future funding for vital road and transit maintenance is worth the meager savings motorists may receive if the oil companies decide to pass on the savings through lower prices at the pump.
Perhaps the only upside to this debate is the attention it has drawn to the Highway Trust Fund, which has sustained the nation's highways since enactment of the Interstate Highway Program in 1956. The federal gas tax goes directly into the Highway Trust Fund, supporting highway and transit systems which move millions of people and tons of cargo safely everyday. The Highway Trust Fund also supports thousands of high paying jobs right here at home and next year Congress must act to keep the program working for America.