By Dean Franks, vice president of congressional affairs, ARTBA

On the heels of the Senate passing a six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill that temporarily stabilizes highway and transit investment with non-transportation related revenues, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) Aug. 5 introduced legislation aimed at ending the eight-year cycle of Highway Trust Fund shortfalls.

The TRAFFIC Relief Act (Tax Relief and #FixTheTrustFund for Infrastructure Certainty) would increase the gasoline and diesel fuels taxes 4 cents per year over the next four years and subsequently index the user fees to inflation.  Senate staff estimates the change in fuels tax rates would raise an additional $220 billion over the next 10 years—more than enough to cover the current projected shortfall over that time period.

“Rather than lurching from crisis to crisis, increasing [the] country’s debt, and borrowing more money from foreign governments to pay for our transportation system, I say it’s time to do what’s right,” Carper said in a statement. “At a time when gas prices are some of the lowest we’ve seen in recent memory, we should be willing to make the hard choice to raise the federal gas tax.”

To help offset the potential financial impact a fuels tax increase would have on many Americans, Carper’s legislation would also extend the earned income and child tax credits set to expire at the end of 2015.  Similar proposals to combine fuels tax increases with tax credits have been proposed by ARTBA and Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.).

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has co-sponsored Carper’s legislation.  It is unlikely the measure will be considered this year in the Senate.  As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works and Finance Committees, however, Carper could be included in any discussions to reconcile Senate and House reauthorization bills.