Sunday Night Owls: Replacing the gasoline tax with something that makes 21st Century sense

Sunday Night Owls: Replacing the gasoline tax with something that makes 21st Century sense

Night Owls is a themed open thread appearing at Daily Kos seven days a week.

Gabrielle Gurley at The American Prospect writes—The Long and Winding Road to Replacing the Gas TaxCan Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg convince Congress that road user fees are the next big revenue thing?

Pete Buttigieg has parachuted in for a soft landing at the Department of Transportation. There were no Betsy DeVos-esque moments at the Rhodes Scholar’s confirmation hearing. “You know what the hell you are talking about,” gushed Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, near the end of the former South Bend mayor’s two-and-a-half-hour charm offensive. That offensive has also taken Buttigieg to late-night talk shows and celebrity newsmaker programs, where he’s commiserated about the sad state of American infrastructure and what the Biden administration plans to do about it.

But feel-good television blots out the problems of a sector cracking under the weight of early-21st-century inaction. There is a stunning lack of urgency in Congress about the virtual insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, which shores up roads and public transit with fuel taxes that were last increased in 1993 and are not indexed to inflation. President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg are on the spot to devise interim measures to address the diminishing returns of gas taxes as cars grow more fuel-efficient and electrification looms—or to come up with something better.
That something better may be a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee system, which charges road users by the mile. Will Congress go along? In his only major misstep in the hearing, Buttigieg suggested that raising the gas tax was on the table when it wasn’t. Biden obviously does not want to serve up any “He raised your taxes in the middle of pandemic” GOP campaign-ads-that-write-themselves for the 2022 midterms. Right after Buttigieg misspoke, a Transportation Department spokesperson delivered a swift retraction: A “variety of options need to be on the table, but increasing the gas tax is not among them.”</b>
Buttigieg, however, also suggested moving to a VMT, and on that, there was no pushback from the administration. Clearly, the returns from the gas tax are diminishing, and the announcement last week from General Motors that it will go all-electric by 2035 has alerted even Congress’s oil-patch members that times are changing. If increased fuel efficiency has already cratered trust fund revenues, vehicular electrification promises to kill them off altogether. […]

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BLAST FROM THE PAST

On this date at Daily Kos in 2013—Republicans start to squirm over sequester:

Republicans are starting to squirm and look for ways out of the upcoming sequester. And no wonder: If it goes into effect, it would deal another blow to the economy. It would be wildly unpopular. And, for all the GOP’s efforts to pin it on President Obama, Republicans would be in for blame from the public—as they should be. After all, at the time the sequester was signed into law, John Boehner said he’d gotten 98 percent of what he wanted. So how do you solve a problem like the sequester? For Republicans, the answer is a foregone conclusion. You demand massive cuts to the programs that people rely on, and ultimately give in grudgingly on cosmetic compromises on a few teeny tiny revenue increases that Democrats and voters want and that would help the economy.

Here are some of the blows to ordinary people Republicans would be willing to trade to get rid of the sequester: raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. Changes to Medicare premiums. “Reforming” federal pension programs. Chained CPI. Changes to Medicaid. Get the picture?

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