Congress is kicking the can down the road again on fixing the nation’s highway system. Lawmakers last week took the tired but necessary step of extending the 2005 highway funding law, the tenth such extension. Allowing all highway funding to lapse in July would have meant fewer projects and lost jobs. But given that efforts to pass a new highway bill have stalled over how to fund it, it’s time for Congress to rethink its reliance on a gas tax as the primary source of transportation money. Until lawmakers find a broader-based solution to funding highway projects, the country won’t have the infrastructure needed to compete in the 21st century.
The $180 billion, two-year extension does nothing to move away from a tax on gasoline as the dominant source of funding, in place since the highway fund’s inception. With Americans driving less and cars guzzling less gas, taxing gas alone fails to provide enough money for the system’s needs. Lawmakers avoided this problem through tweaks to federal pension programs and some random tax increases (including one on roll-your-own cigarettes). But this ad hoc approach won’t work forever.