GOP lawmakers aim to slash highway funds after saying they backed 'real' infrastructure

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Rep. Yvette Herrell's proposal would suspend the gasoline tax that funds transportation infrastructure.

Republicans in Congress have spent weeks trying to frame themselves as committed to investing in "real" infrastructure. But a new House GOP bill would cut off most of the funding for the existing federal investment in transportation infrastructure.

Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) introduced a bill this week to suspend the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax for at least six months, depending on when the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Her "Pausing Unrelenting Markups on Petroleum (PUMP) Act of 2021" is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Paul Gosar (AZ), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Diana Harshbarger (TN), Jake LaTurner (KS), Lisa McClain (MI), Burgess Owens (UT), and Greg Steube (FL).

"The PUMP Act would immediately reduce gas prices and allow consumers to spend money in other ways, which will help our economic recovery get back on track," she said in a Wednesday press release.

But a six-month freeze or more freeze would be costly for the federal government — and the Highway Trust Fund that provides most of the funds for federal transit and highway programs. According to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the fuel excise tax — last increased in 1993 — is the source for about 80% of the trust fund's revenues.

The Highway Trust Fund is already running at a significant annual deficit, bringing in only about $37 billion annually and needing billions more than that.

Herrell's proposal to cut infrastructure funding comes as GOP leaders are claiming significant new investments can be made without a tax increase.

President Joe Biden has proposed a $2.25 trillion bill — the American Jobs Plan — to invest in roads, bridges, transit, water systems, broadband, clean energy, child care, and caregiving infrastructure. He would fund this by raising more revenue from corporations, partially reversing the massive tax cuts they received under Donald Trump's 2017 tax legislation.

Herrell criticized Biden's bill for focusing on things she did not believe counted as real infrastructure.

"The White House fact sheet on Democrats' 'infrastructure bill' mentions 'climate' 20 times more than 'Highway Trust Fund,'" she complained in an April 8 tweet

Senate Republicans have countered with a $568 billion plan that would add about $189 billion in new funds to existing baselines and invest only in transportation, water systems, and broadband. Their proposal relies on existing trust fund revenue and some added fees for electric car users; Herrell's freeze would make paying for even that impossible.

Gas prices saw a temporary spike last week, due to a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline. But the pipeline is flowing again and prices have already stabilized, according to the American Automobile Association.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.