Thune keeps open mind on gas tax hike to fund highway bill

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2014 -- The Republican senator who's expected to be the next chair of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee says he's not ruling out a hike in the federal gasoline tax as a way of funding a national highway bill.

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But Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who is currently the panel's ranking member, said there are other options to consider, including some sort of royalty for energy development on federal lands, as well as closing some corporate tax loopholes.  

“We have got to keep every option on table,” Thune said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. “We cannot continue to borrow and put this on backs of future generations.”

The federal Highway Trust Fund, which provides billions annually for state and local highway and mass transit projects, almost ran out of money earlier this year before Congress in July came up with $10.8 billion to keep the fund solvent through May. The fund relies primarily on an 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax that hasn't been raised since 1993. Since then the fund has been drained by higher costs for road and bridge construction and vehicles with more efficient engines that burn less gas.

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In recent years, Congress has paid for highway construction mostly by borrowing, but Thune said that has to end. “That's just wrong,” he said.

 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited South Dakota with Thune on Tuesday. During the trip he told the Rapid City Journal he's also willing to consider a higher gas tax to pay for highway funding.

“If Congress coalesces around something like that, we've expressed that we would keep an open mind toward it,” Foxx said, according to the newspaper.

 

Before Congress passed its short term funding extension, Foxx proposed $302 billion in transportation spending paid for by the closing of corporate tax loopholes. Foxx said Tuesday he continues to view that proposal as workable, but he's open to other ideas.

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