When it comes to any long-term solutions on how to best fund repairs and maintenance for the nation's crumbling infrastructure, Congress continues to kick the can down a crumbling road.
On Tuesday, the House passed another temporary extension to the federal Highway Trust Fund, which was set to expire on May 31. The Senate is expected to vote later this week on the two-month-long patch to the fund, which uses revenue from the current federal gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure projects.
Infrastructure repairs and upgrades likely mean more taxes, and for years Congress has been unwilling to bite the fiscal bullet and increase the federal gas tax, which has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon for more than 20 years.
But with the summer driving season about to start this weekend, the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has jumped into the debate with some new data and commentary about the gas tax.
It points out that, taking inflation into account, the federal gas tax has lost close to 40 percent of its value since the last increase in 1993.
"To be clear, this does not suggest that construction costs have grown in an unprecedented or unexpected way," Carl Davis a senior policy analyst at ITEP, wrote on the institute's website. "The problem has been a long, slow, inevitable decline in purchasing power for which lawmakers failed to plan."
Davis also noted that 16 states have taken matters into their own hands and over the past two years have enacted their own gasoline tax increases or reforms.
The Obama administration has also chimed in. Earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx took part in a series of events across the country designed to draw attention to the infrastructure funding crisis.
"Our nation's economy and the way we live both depend on having strong infrastructure," Foxx said in a press statement for the tour's kickoff. "But the truth is that our current levels of investment are falling short of what is needed just to keep our existing system safe and in good condition."
Federal lawmakers are struggling with ways to revive U.S. infrastructure funding without having to turn to the nation's taxpayers.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, thinks needed revenue could come from proposed changes to the tax rate on corporate foreign earnings. That process, known as repatriation, would bring back to the U.S. the trillions of dollars in profits American corporations currently keep overseas.
"I think pretty much everybody in this town has come to the conclusion that repatriation is where the dollars are," Shuster said during a recent press conference. "There's no willingness, there's no will in this Congress or in the administration to do anything with adjusting user fees or taxes."