ARC: Gas Hike Could Fund Repair of Park Roads
Editor’s Note: The following appeared in the American Recreation Coalition’s (ARC) newsletter addressing a proposal to hike the federal gasoline tax, a portion of which could be earmarked to repair access roads to national parks.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced legislation on Dec. 3 to increase the federal gasoline tax by 15 cents from 18.4 cents to 33.4 cents per gallon. The bill, H.R. 3636, also known as the “Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials (UPDATE) Act of 2013,” would phase in the increase over the next three years.
The federal gas tax provides funding to the Highway Trust Fund, which underwrites the nation’s surface transportation program, providing billions of dollars annually for construction of roads and other infrastructure. In addition, portions of the Fund are used to support other programs linked to the underlying “user-pay” philosophy of the program, including the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which receives funding attributable to recreational boating, and the Recreational Trails Program, supported with funding generated from the gas tax paid for nonhighway recreational uses of motorfuel.
The federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993, which has reduced its buying power by nearly 40% over the same period, based upon CPI adjustments. The result has been a shortfall in funding available from the Highway Trust Fund, which, in recent years, has necessitated the diversion of some $10 billion annually from general funds to the surface transportation program. The shortfall has also been exacerbated as cars have become more fuel efficient, requiring less gas to be purchased – and less gas tax to be paid – to travel the same distance.
The American Recreation Coalition (ARC) has become very concerned about the deteriorating condition of roads that provide access to national parks, national forests and other federal lands covering nearly one-third of the nation and hosting well over one billion recreation visits annually. Deferred maintenance, failing bridges and unsafe roadways total billions in needed investment to allow access to campgrounds, trailheads, lakes and other recreation sites. ARC has urged consideration of earmarking a “Penny for the Great Outdoors,” or “Penny for Parks,” for use on federal lands. The concept is simple. Earmarking a portion of any increase in the federal gas tax would generate some $1.5 billion annually that could be invested in efforts that support transportation systems on federal lands vital to quality recreational experiences. Unlike virtually all other public roads in America, roads on America’s public lands receive no funding from the state taxes levied on gasoline.
“Penny for the Great Outdoors” would most likely succeed as part of a broader effort to fund the nation’s surface transportation program. Such a broader effort has support from a wide variety of interests, including AAA, the AFL-CIO, the construction and trucking industry, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.