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June 19, 2014

Senators propose 12-cent gas tax increase

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two senators unveiled a bipartisan plan Wednesday to raise federal gasoline and diesel taxes for the first time in more than two decades, pitching the proposal as a solution to Congress' struggle to pay for highway and transit programs.

The plan offered by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would raise the 18.4 cents-a-gallon federal gas tax and 24.4 cents-a-gallon diesel tax each by 12 cents over the next two years, and then index the taxes to keep pace with inflation. The increase would be applied in two increments of 6 cents each.

The plan also calls for offsetting the tax increases with other tax cuts. Senators said that could be done by permanently extending six of 50 federal tax breaks that expired this year, but they indicated they would be open to other suggestions for offsets.

The plan was immediately embraced by industry and transportation advocacy groups seeking a long-term means to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent. However, it would require a lot of heavy lifting from Congress in the politically charged atmosphere of an election year to pass such a plan before late August, when the trust fund is forecast to go broke.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has indicated he's looking for means to shore up the fund for about the next six months while working on a long-term plan. That would move debate on a gas tax increase or some other revenue-raising scheme until after the midterm elections in November.

Revenue from gas taxes and other transportation user fees that for decades hasn't kept pace with promised federal transportation aid promised to states. People are driving less per capita and cars are more fuel efficient, keeping revenues fairly flat. At the same time, the cost of construction has increased, and the nation's infrastructure is aging, creating greater demand for new and rebuilt roads and bridges.

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