The United States’ 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and 24.4-cent tax on diesel hasn’t changed since 1993. Despite this, the opinion that it should be hiked as a way of funding public works was nowhere near the White House’s official infrastructure strategy. But Donald Trump isn’t averse to the idea. In fact, he proposed a 25-cent increase to senators during a Wednesday meeting as a possible funding solution.
White House officials claim the president says “everything is on the table” in terms of finding a solution for America’s growing infrastructure problems. But how serious the rest of the Trump administration is about raising the fuel tax is debatable.
Delaware senator Tom Carper, who attended a meeting between the president and lawmakers, told Reuters he hadn’t expected a tax hike to even be an option during Wednesday’s discussion.
“To my surprise, President Trump, today in our meeting, offered his support for raising the gas and diesel tax by 25 cents a gallon and dedicating that money to improve our roads, highways, and bridges,” Carper explained. “The president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.”
However, Carper also said Trump repeatedly expressed concerns that it was a difficult proposal for legislators to support unanimously, and he would need to find a way to convince congress it was the right strategy.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao voiced similar concerns on Tuesday when she spoke to reporters at the White House. “The President has not declared anything out of bounds, so everything is on the table. The gas tax, like many of the other pay-fors that are being discussed, is not ideal,” she said.
“There are pros and cons. The gas tax has adverse impact, a very regressive impact, on the most vulnerable within our society; those who depend on jobs, who are hourly workers. So these are tough decisions, which is why, once again, we need to start the dialogue with the Congress, and so that we can address these issues on this very important point.”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe publicly condemned Carper’s characterization of the meeting, saying he had confused Trump’s openness to multiple solutions with outright support of a gas tax increase. “He was not advocating that. He was looking at all the options,” Inhofe said. “All he said was we need to do something and that is still on the table.”
The White House presented an infrastructure plan on Monday that intends to convert $200 billion in federal funding into $1.5 trillion by tapping into local and state tax dollars and private investments. Its plan does not specify how it will source the federal revenue at all. Instead, it suggests local governments and private entities find their own through tolls and user fees, which could win them federal grants needed for use on projects.
Congress also doesn’t appear to be too optimistic about passing an increase in the gas tax. While Democrats insist any infrastructure plans have to include include new revenue sources, not all of them appear willing to support a tax hike on fuel. Republicans are, on average, substantially less excited to back the idea of additional taxation, and some have already come out saying they would oppose such a proposal.