Raise the Federal Gas Tax to Fund Infrastructure

Next Debate Previous Debate
InfrastuctureBridge 398x239

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Highway Trust Fund provides funding for road, bridge, and mass transit projects across the country – and it’s running out of money. Its revenue source, the federal gas tax, at 18.4 cents a gallon, has not been raised in over two decades. Congress has been kicking this can down the road for years. There are many arguments for a leaner fund, among them, the idea that scaling back the program would force government to prioritize projects and eliminate waste. But proponents of the tax say that it still plays a vital role in supporting infrastructure, and that perpetual shortfalls have led to construction delays and uncertainty. Should Congress raise the federal gas tax?

  • Shailen-Bhatt 90px


    Shailen Bhatt

    Executive Director, Colorado Dept. of Transportation

  • AlisonPremoBlack90px


    Alison Premo Black

    Sr. VP & Chief Economist, American Road & Transportation Builders Association

  • AdrianMoore90


    Adrian Moore

    VP of Policy, Reason Foundation

  • StephenMoore90px


    Stephen Moore

    Distinguished Visiting Fellow, The Heritage Foundation

    • Moderator Image


      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

See Results See Full Debate Video Purchase DVD

Read Transcript

Listen to the edited radio broadcast

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to the unedited radio broadcast

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Subscribe to the Podcast
Shailen-Bhatt 90px

For The Motion

Shailen Bhatt

Executive Director, Colorado Dept. of Transportation

Shailen Bhatt was recently appointed as the executive director for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), where he is charged with leading the Department in planning for and addressing Colorado’s transportation needs. Bhatt oversees 3,000 employees statewide and an annual budget of approximately $1.2 billion to guide CDOT in providing the best multi-modal transportation system for Colorado. Prior to this appointment, he served as the cabinet secretary for the Delaware Department of Transportation and as an associate administrator at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Bhatt also plays a leadership role in national transportation for the U.S. He currently serves on the board of directors for the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and chairs the AASHTO Subcommittee on Transportation Systems Management and Operation (STSMO). Bhatt served as the chair of the executive committee of the I-95 Corridor Coalition and was a commissioner for the Northeast Corridor Commission.

Learn more


For The Motion

Alison Premo Black

Sr. VP & Chief Economist, American Road & Transportation Builders Association

Alison Premo Black joined the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) in August 2000. In addition to serving as senior vice president and chief economist for ARTBA, she is deputy managing director of the Contractors Division and manages the Transportation Investment Advocacy Center program. Black manages ARTBA’s economics staff and is responsible for over 70 studies examining national and state transportation funding and investment patterns, including the association’s landmark economic profile of the transportation construction industry, state bridge condition profiles, and annual modal forecast. Black also oversees ARTBA’s contractor chapter relations and membership development activities. Prior to joining ARTBA, she was an analyst and researcher in the economic section of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea. She has also worked as a researcher in the Trade Unit of the Organization of American States.

Learn more


Against The Motion

Adrian Moore

VP of Policy, Reason Foundation

Adrian Moore is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation, where he leads policy implementation efforts and conducts his own research on topics such as privatization, government and regulatory reform, transportation, and utilities. He regularly advises federal, state, and local officials on ways to streamline government and reduce costs. Moore served on Congress's National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission and, since 2009, has served on California's Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission. The coauthor of several books and dozens of policy studies, Moore has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Economic Affairs, and numerous other publications. In 2002, he was honored by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Michael F. Corbett & Associates Ltd. for his work showing governments how to use public-private partnerships and the private sector to save taxpayer money and improve the efficiency of their agencies. Prior to joining Reason, Moore served 10 years in the Army on active duty and reserves.

Learn more


Against The Motion

Stephen Moore

Distinguished Visiting Fellow, The Heritage Foundation

Stephen Moore, who formerly wrote on the economy and public policy for The Wall Street Journal, is a Fox News contributor and the distinguished visiting fellow for the Project for Economic Growth at the Heritage Foundation. Moore, who also was a member of the Journal’s editorial board, returned to Heritage in January 2014, about 25 years after his tenure as the Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Budgetary Affairs. His current work focuses on advancing public policies that increase the rate of economic growth to help the U.S. retain its position as the global economic superpower. He also works on budget, fiscal, and monetary policy and showcases states that get fiscal houses in order. Moore calls his creation of the Club for Growth, which helps elect conservative members of Congress, the defining moment of his career. He next founded the Free Enterprise Fund, before joining The Wall Street Journal.

Learn more

Declared Winner: For The Motion

Online Voting

Voting Breakdown:

50% voted the same way in both pre - and post-debate votes(39% voted FOR Twice, 5% voted AGAINST Twice, 6% voted UNDECIDED Twice). 50% changed their minds (7% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 5% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 5% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 0% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 22% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 11% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST)| Breakdown Graphic

About This Event

Event Photos

PrevNext Arrows
    PrevNext Arrows


    • Comment Link Scott Ruffner Sunday, 03 January 2016 09:55 posted by Scott Ruffner

      I'm listening to my debates out of order, hence the late comment. However, this debate was illustrative in two ways of a problem with a few recent debate topics: there isn't really much debate in the debate.

      First, as much as I always enjoy seeing the shameless hackery of Stephen Moore publicly rebuked (he ought to have never left his safe and rhetorically unchallenged perch on the WSJ editorial pages), if you can't find anyone more credible to take one side of an argument, then perhaps you should rethink the argument. If the best panelist you can find is of this caliber, reconsider whether anyone seriously considers the debate a debate.

      Second, the lopsided pre-votes. I'm not sure if there's audience packing being undertaken by either side (shills who vote "undecided" in the opening round), but setting aside that kind of conspiracy: if you have a debate that begins with a majority in favor of one side and that majority only grows through the course of the debate then it's misleading (putting it kindly) to award a 'win' to the other side, even if they 'grow' more. Either the Oxford rules are broken, or the subject isn't really a debate.

      Clearly there's no real debate about the gas tax.

    • Comment Link Frank Saturday, 12 December 2015 18:43 posted by Frank

      Only raise taxes if it is actually needed. It is also much simpler to raise the tax a few cents than to do the insane liberal thing of wanting to add devices to every car to charge per mile driven. Pay 1000 dollar to each car price to diversify the tax stream instead of being honest and raising the gas tax a few pennies.

    • Comment Link Devlin Drahnoel Thursday, 05 November 2015 18:34 posted by Devlin Drahnoel

      We need to stop raising taxes while the government refuses to clamp down on wasteful spending practices. It seems every project they collect bids for they get a reasonable price quoted and it winds up costing 10 times the amount of the bid. The government needs to hold the contractors feet to the fire, there are laws that I can not be given a quote, okay the work then be given a bill over 10% higher than quoted. Why are these contractors allowed to get away with it?

      I am sick of the insane waste and always seeing my taxes go up to cover it. My wife and I have to sell our home not because we got jobs that were far away or the crime rate went up but because our property taxes have gone up so high we can no longer afford to live here. It's sick how the left always runs to "we have to raise taxes" instead of "the government's job is not to be everyone's piggy bank". What happened to all the money President Obama took for his "shovel ready jobs to repair our crumbling infrastructure"? Yes it got PISSED AWAY... Sorry no more tapping the trough, my wallet is EMPTY!

    • Comment Link Phil G Wednesday, 04 November 2015 19:05 posted by Phil G

      The crux of the Moores' argument seems to be that if we lower the federal gas tax, local states and cities will increase their gas taxes accordingly based on their needs. The fact is, we're at a shortfall in the tens or hundreds of billions now (I believe $1T was the figure given by Ms. Black), so if local governments aren't raising taxes to cover the shortfall and their needed improvements *now*, what makes anybody think they'll do so if the federal gas tax is cut and our shortfall becomes even larger? I haven't heard anyone asking for an increase in transit tax and spend to all-time-high % of GDP, just enough to match the levels we had two decades ago.

      That said, arguments about funding the transportation of the future are quite prescient - Spokane, WA is a great example of this, as they chose to re-build a bridge by adding bike and pedestrian lanes and not adding any car lanes, and not only did they see an increase in those low-impact and healthy modes of transportation, but vehicle traffic on the bridge actually decreased, which can help to reduce wear and push further into the future the need for more improvements. Additionally, if we focus simply on raising the gas tax, what happens to our funding in 2030 when perhaps 20% or more of the national fleet of vehicles are hybrid or electric?

      This was a great debate, some very good arguments made on both sides, but it's a complex issue and any long-term solution must be far more nuanced than a "yes/no" argument about gas tax.

    • Comment Link Danalexa Jimenez Thursday, 29 October 2015 14:20 posted by Danalexa Jimenez

      One factor underlying public annoyance with taxes is the fact that we cannot "see" what we are paying for. With infrastructure, that is not the case. From that standpoint, a hike in a targeted tax (infrastructure maintenance/repair) is the place to start. If the Feds can get it together to develop a list of criteria to identify infrastructure in need of repair, identify them, & then develop a plan to do the work, there may be significant support for a very targeted approach to attending to needed repairs.
      I was raised in "third world" country where spiffy roads & buildings were built & left to take care of themselves. America is starting to be run like a banana republic where the wealthy buy politicians who do their bidding by ignoring the role of government in maintaining a safe & well-planned infrastructure under the guise of every & any tax is takes away freedom & liberty.

    • Comment Link Gary Fisher Wednesday, 28 October 2015 09:09 posted by Gary Fisher

      A joint discussion on user taxation versus the PPP funding wherein the public mortgages its future for surface enhancements today. The public doesn't want taxes and the public doesn't understand the consequences. People continue to breed and subsequently drive so,
      let's get our heads out of the sand. I'm not pro PPP but this discussion needs to go mainstream.

    • Comment Link Jeffrey Calasara Tuesday, 27 October 2015 16:32 posted by Jeffrey Calasara

      Let's make it a little simple , if we could maintain the supply of petroleum products like gas , we can allow the raise on tax since the amount of tax imposed will be compendated by lower price adjustments. Lke for example i dont mind paying 20 cents or more tax if we could maintain the price at the present price . Before we are used of paying $4 per Gallon. Now that we are only paying 2-3 dollars per gallon . Why not , the funds is going to the fundings the infrastures that we also use. In times of crisis the government could impose tax reduction this will legally generate significantly the funds for infrastructures .

    • Comment Link Jeffrey Calasara Tuesday, 27 October 2015 16:31 posted by Jeffrey Calasara

      Let's make it a little simple , if we could maintain the supply of petroleum products like gas , we can allow the raise on tax since the amount of tax imposed will be compendated by lower price adjustments. Lke for example i dont mind paying 20 cents or more tax if we could maintain the price at the present price . Before we are used of paying $4 per Gallon. Now that we are only paying 2-3 dollars per gallon . Why not , the funds is going to the fundings the infrastures that we also use. In times of crisis the government could impose tax reduction this will legally generate significantly the funds for infrastructures .

    • Comment Link Ben Yates Monday, 26 October 2015 14:32 posted by Ben Yates

      As in most debates, there is some truth in both arguments. A congressman recently told me, "we don't have a funding problem, we have a spending problem" and then he cited some asphalt through the woods projects that were done only because the money was there. He proposed that HTF money should only be spent on projects where public tires travel.

      At the same time, there is no denying we are substantially underinvesting in simple maintenance, which when completed, extends the life and value of roads, bridges, and utilities. Inaction has a price, and it's guaranteed to be exponential compared to maintenance. Considering we've given the public a 22 year hall pass, I think an incremental bump in the "user fee" is warranted and necessary.

    • Comment Link Lalo Portillo Sunday, 25 October 2015 12:43 posted by Lalo Portillo

      I hope the discussion of private-public partnerships (3P) features in this discussion. I think this is a sensible way forward. Just look at Texas which has just completed a number of much-needed expansion road projects with the help of private money. And, no, not all of the new construction has come in the form of toll roads. On top of that, TXDOT outsourced its IT functions to a private contractor, saving the agency millions per year. Just another example of the limited government, red state model at work. Expect to see the continued economic rise of America's red states.

    • Comment Link C. Percopo Sunday, 25 October 2015 12:05 posted by C. Percopo

      This should have been taken care of back in '09 with the billions that went to bail out the unions instead. It was the perfect opportunity to put people to work and help pull us out of the deep recession we were in. China did so, learning from FDR.
      I think Washington should find the money by cutting some of their excess spending for this important project! Once they install this tax, they will never remove it. Washington will spend every cent that they can extract, much of it wasted! It will make Americans poorer, and government stronger. Bad move!

    • Comment Link Larry Stewart Friday, 23 October 2015 17:40 posted by Larry Stewart

      More than 70% of Americans support raising the Federal gasoline tax (18.4 cents per gallon, unchanged since 1993) 10 cents if the money is used to maintain roads and bridges. We no doubt need to improve the cost efficiency of our transportation-infrastructure system, but deliberately underfunding our needs for a decade threatens to cripple the economy that travels on America's roads. Seems a pretty high price to pay to advance a political ideology.

    • Comment Link Michael Deal Friday, 23 October 2015 11:09 posted by Michael Deal

      Most of the commenters who oppose raising the gas tax in order to build and repairing roads live in urban areas where mass transit can work. Those of us who live in rural areas - you know, where they raise crops, stock, and timber and extract petroleum, natural gas and minerals - know that mass transit does not work out here. It also doesn't work terribly well for transporting cargo,especially produce, from its point of origin. Roads, like the wheel, are just one of those primal inventions which we have not evolved beyond.

    • Comment Link Stu Chisholm Wednesday, 21 October 2015 15:36 posted by Stu Chisholm

      "Raise the gas tax" is inside-the-box thinking. Don't we already have plenty of funds for infrastructure? Why aren't we getting our money's worth, and why would we want to give them MORE? And aren't there other ways to fun it? After all, we're beyond "maintenance" mode; our infrastructure needs a ton of outright replacement. We need something akin to the original Highway project.

    • Comment Link jastroeve Wednesday, 21 October 2015 12:11 posted by jastroeve

      According to the Libertarian Reason Foundation, it opposes publicly funded roads, bridges -- infrastructure of any sort. It is for privatizing everything. It calls this "the free market." The free market is a joke that doesn't work without solid regulation and oversight. Let's see how well all the privately-owned toll roads in the U.S. have done. Many have gone the way of bankruptcy, requiring the public to pay for things they should have been funding all along. Gas tax is actually a road use tax; experts recommend that over-the-road transit companies pony up for the damage their 18 wheelers do to roads and highways. Obstruction in Congress is no reason America doesn't have to invest in its infrastructure.

    • Comment Link Bob Bruce Wednesday, 21 October 2015 11:38 posted by Bob Bruce

      I think that two important points are made above. One in the For the Motion argument and one in the Against the Motion argument. The idea that the gas tax should be indexed to inflation is correct in my opinion. Otherwise, the true value of the tax gets whittled down every year as prices increase. The idea that the gas tax is being spent on things that it should not be spent on such as transit and pathways is correct. The gas tax is paid by motorists to operate, maintain and build roads and bridges. I don't think that the enabling legislation or the intent of those who originally wrote it was for the funds collected from the gas tax to be used for other transportation purposes. Fix the two things above and our Highway Trust Fund would be quite adequate.

    • Comment Link T. Carter Ross Tuesday, 20 October 2015 09:17 posted by T. Carter Ross

      We need to modernize, we need to streamline, we need to improve oversight, but we also need to raise the gas tax. The moneys raised by the gas tax are a user fee that go to support the maintenance and improvement of our current transportation system. The federal gas tax has been frozen since the 1990s, but the demands on our roads have only increased. We need an increase in funds to preserve and maintain our existing roads, as well as to make improvements and expansions where needed. Doing it with a mechanism that is tied to the use of the roads, such as a gas tax, makes much more sense than general fund transfers.

    • Comment Link Ken Orski Monday, 05 October 2015 14:46 posted by Ken Orski

      Isn't it somewhat irrelevant to discuss this issue when there is widespread public opposition to increasing the gas tax as well as bipartisan opposition in Congress and in the White House?

    • Comment Link GLSJr Friday, 02 October 2015 03:40 posted by GLSJr

      Spending $200b on highways and incurring $2T in energy & accidents is a waste.
      Highways are 2000 yr old Roman Rd with improved surfaces. Developed and implemented in a far off time and in a much different understanding and capability than today.
      Enclosure in a secure & controlled environment. Transport energy utility & tele communications will be opened to begin to technologically evolve into greatly reduced cost of perm components.
      providing a smaller and limited structural undertaking in reliably known 50 yr old abilities which may simply lack nearly all the time energy resources accidents enviro & ecological problems of today.
      Automation is an awesome accomplishment. Closes distances between users and increases speeds. Flow rate capacity goes multi exponential. 1 automated lane can exceed 20 lane highway. A seriius reduction in the amount of required structure which is in permanent investment.
      Enclosure modernizes in 1/10 structure & tech with energy and resource efficiencies which are 10 to 20 times greater.
      With out environmental & ecological impacts too.
      Why are we not modernizing?

    • Comment Link Zed Fechten Tuesday, 22 September 2015 15:53 posted by Zed Fechten

      Why is it always raise taxes? Why not improve efficiency? Have you ever seen the mountain of paperwork resulting from a typical federal aid project? Surely there ways to cut costs without cutting corners.

      Also, stop building stuff we can't maintain and concentrate on preventive maintenance. That will save money in the long run.

    Leave a comment

    Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. HTML code is not allowed.