Unions Line Up Behind Gas Tax Hike Bill

WASHINGTON –Transportation and construction unions are lining up behind a bipartisan Senate bill to raise the federal gas tax by 12 cents a gallon over the next two years, to pay for rebuilding the nation’s highways and bridges and to fund bus and subway systems.
The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, the Laborers and North America’s Building Trades all endorsed the measure, introduced June 18 by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn.  If approved, the hike would raise $164 billion in the next decade.
All gas tax money goes into the Highway Trust Fund, which provides federal grants for transportation projects nationwide.  The projects create tens of thousands of well-paying construction jobs, and other industries also would gain jobs through added commerce.
Republicans don’t want to raise the gas tax, at18.4 cents a gallon since 1993.  Tea
Party-influenced House Republicans are dead set against raising taxes or helping workers.
The so-called Club For Growth – a big-money funder of challengers to GOP lawmakers it deems insufficiently Right Wing – denounced the gas tax and federal infrastructure funding in general.  It favors turning all road, bridge, bus and subway responsibility back to the states.
And Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee, wants to cut highway project costs by slashing construction workers’ pay – through repeal of the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law.  That’s been a favorite Right Wing cause for years.
That doesn’t stop the workers’ leaders.  “It’s time to end the ‘pothole penalty’” of “lost lives, accidents and damage to vehicles caused by poor roads and deficient and obsolete bridges,”Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan said .
“Congress now has multiple, viable options to work with to address our crumbling transportation infrastructure and they should feel compelled to do so. It’s time to stop sugar-coating this issue and to take action.”  The Laborers have long backed a gas tax hike to refill the Highway Trust Fund.  Analysts say if the fund runs out of money, 600,000 jobs vanish.
“Failing to address the trust fund crisis will make our transportation systems less safe and will deliver an unnecessary economic punch in the form of hundreds of thousands of lost jobs.  For the Laborers, ensuring a long-term, full-investment solution is about creating and protecting jobs – but it’s as much about making our roads and bridges safe. Like most working people, we rely on them every day,” O’Sullivan declared.
The Murphy-Corker measure is “a commitment to finding solutions to the anticipated collapse of the Highway Trust Fund, which funds vital transit, highway and bridge investments,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said.  The fund is due to run out of money by the end of summer.  Some states, anticipating that, canceled projects.
“Our broken surface transportation funding mechanism is currently running on empty – we either fund it with a significant infusion or it will become insolvent and our economy will suffer,” Wytkind added.  He called the bill “a no-brainer” to create shorter commutes and safer public transit and to repair highways.  And he praised the senators for proposing to make a mass transit tax break permanent, too.
Building Trades Department President Sean McGarvey lauded Corker and Murphy for “saying ‘enough is enough,’ and for putting partisan politics aside and working across the aisle to construct a serious, bipartisan solution to deal with the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.  Their efforts will make our country safer, will grow our economy, and will create thousands of middle-class wage jobs across the United States.”
But McGarvey warned that refilling the Highway Trust Fund cannot be a total solution to paying for the nation’s infrastructure needs.  That’s because as vehicles improve their gas mileage and as people drive fewer miles, the fund’s revenues lag.  To make up for that shortfall, unions also back a National Infrastructure Bank, which uses federal “seed money” to leverage private funds to build key nationally important infrastructure projects.