By Keith Laing - 07/23/14 12:04 PM EDT
The Senate will hold a vote this week on a proposal that would eliminate most of the gas taxes that are paid by drivers in the United States.
A proposal to begin phasing out the gas tax, which has been dubbed the Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA), is being pushed by staunchly conservative lawmakers who advocate major changes to federal infrastructure funding.
The proposal to end the taxes will be voted on as an amendment to a short-term extension of highway funding, which is set to run out in August.
The concept, commonly referred to by transportation observers as "devolution," calls for lowering the gas tax that currently pays for most federal transportation projects from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents in five years.
During the same time period, the bill would transfer authority over federal highways and transit programs to states and replace current congressional appropriations with block grants.
Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeICANN is already under foreign government influence: the proof is in the pudding Senators express 'grave concerns' about ObamaCare 'bailout' Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (R-Utah), who is the primary sponsor of the gas tax reduction proposal, said Tuesday that it would give states more control over transportation funding that they collect via their own fuel levies.
“Under this new system, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached,” Lee said in a statement. “Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build smarter and more affordable projects.”
Lee has been pushing to eliminate the gas tax since 2013.
The vote comes as senators are scrambling to approve a new round of transportation funding before the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money next month.
The gas tax has been the main funding source for transportation projects since the interstate highway system was created in the 1950s, but it has struggled to keep up with the need for infrastructure spending projects as cars grow more fuel-efficient.
The current transportation funding bill, which is scheduled to expire in September, includes approximately $50 billion per year in road and transit spending. The gas tax brings in about $34 billion per year.
Transportation advocates have vigorously opposed Lee's idea to reduce the gas tax, pushing instead for an increase for the first time in two decades to help close the funding shortfall.
Lawmakers have been reluctant to increase the price that is paid by drivers in the middle of a campaign year. They have also been unwilling to cut back spending on construction projects in their districts, however, focusing instead on a temporary $10.9 billion extension of the current transportation bill that would keep the gas tax at 18.4 cents per gallon until May 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThe missed opportunity of JASTA States urged to bolster election security How the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill MORE (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he plans to hold a vote on the House's temporary transportation funding measure as early as Wednesday.
“We're going to have votes on the Highway Trust Fund before we leave here,” he said at a news conference. “I'd like to do it tomorrow or the next day.”
Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems gain upper hand on budget Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (D-Calif.), Tom CarperTom CarperElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (D-Del.) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerOvernight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Dem leaders defend overriding 9/11 bill veto GOP leaders express reservations a day after 9/11 veto override MORE (R-Tenn.) are attempting to offer amendments to the House bill that would bring it closer in line with a Senate proposal to extend transportation funding only until Dec. 31.
The end of the year amendments would run directly counter to Lee's proposal to gradually eliminate the gas tax.