Debate over new push to raise federal gas tax

Rep. Blumenauer on support for measure


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," December 3, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Well, talk about a kick in the gas, a push to double the federal tax on every gallon of gas.

To Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who says it's time and it will do some good.

Congressman, you're talking about hiking that tax to more than 33 cents a gallon. That doesn't sound all too good, but explain why you think it's a good idea.

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER, D-ORE.: Well, first of all, we haven't raised the gas tax in 20 years.

During that time, the amount that the average motorist pays per mile that they drive, because of increased full efficiency and inflation, has been cut in half. We are facing -- for all the talk of a budget deficit, we're facing an infrastructure deficit.

And because we have just sort of run the gas tax trust fund down to where it's approaching zero, if we don't do something in the next 10 months, we're going to face an inability to fund any transit funding next year, and the federal highway funding will drop 92 percent. It's time to face up...

CAVUTO: Well, what's happened to all the money we have already -- what has happened to all the money we have already allocated, not only through the gas tax, Congressman, but states and municipalities that have their own surcharges and charges and the money we have allocated via tolls and bridges?

BLUMENAUER: What you have seen is that transportation...


CAVUTO: Where is that money going?

BLUMENAUER: Well, you can look around you and see in every community.

It's -- it's -- we have had a -- we have had a dramatic reduction in the amount of money that has been available over the course of the last 10 years. As I say, you haven't raised the gas tax in 20 years.

CAVUTO: All right, but we have more gas revenue coming in, I'm just saying, because more people are driving and just demand...


BLUMENAUER: No. Actually, that's not the case.


CAVUTO: No, no. I guess what I'm asking you, is there a way to assure this in a lockbox so that it's intended for just that purpose? Because we do have a lot of other means by which we raise money to help our infrastructure, and our infrastructure still sucks.

BLUMENAUER: Well, first of all, if you hadn't raised a fund for 20 years, you could see where you -- it would lose revenues. We don't have...

CAVUTO: Well, but where are the tolls and all the other things, where is that money going then?

BLUMENAUER: What is your point?

CAVUTO: No, my point is we have a variety of means by which...


BLUMENAUER: Look at the bridges that we have across the country.


CAVUTO: But where is the money going, $42 billion in fees alone last year, presumably for bridges and roads and highway construction? It -- it -- is that money going somewhere it's not intended? I mean, because that would seem to cover a lot.

BLUMENAUER: It's going to where it's intended under the federal transportation legislation.

The point is, since you haven't raised the tax in 20 years, since people are actually driving less than they used to, and because the demands for transportation are increasing for things like trucks, there was a time when the inventory was kept in warehouses. Now, because of just-in-time deliveries, the highways are the warehouses. And if you go around the country...


CAVUTO: So, where -- do you know -- Congressman, help me, educate me, then. Where is toll money going?

BLUMENAUER: I'm trying to...

CAVUTO: Where is bridge and tunnel money, where is that money going? Do you know?

BLUMENAUER: To the best of my knowledge, the toll money under the individual states that have tolls, those are dedicated for the transportation purposes. Look, you can go...


CAVUTO: But you should the roads and bridges by me. They're falling apart.

BLUMENAUER: Well, that's right. That is what happen when you have people...


CAVUTO: So, I...


CAVUTO: Well, no...


CAVUTO: If I'm going to entertain, Americans are going to going to entertain, Congressman, doing what you want and -- and taking this money to do something that is a meritorious goal -- we want to make sure our bridges don't fall down -- how can we make sure that there will be a lockbox, or a lock or a box, period, that will do for -- for infrastructure repair what you say it will?

BLUMENAUER: The transportation funding is allocated under the highway bill.

It goes for roads, bridges, transit. There's a 20 percent set-aside set up under President Reagan. These moneys have not kept pace with inflation. There are demands. And you go in Cincinnati, they want to replace a bridge. There's a concern in my community to take a bridge that is 100 years old across the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland.

We had the big spate of transportation funding in the late '50s, '60s and '70s. And...

CAVUTO: But you couldn't guarantee -- but, Congressman, I know your - - your intentions are good, sir, but you can't guarantee me...


CAVUTO: ... that the money that is being allocated now through all these various systems, whether set up locally by states or the federal government, is going to its intended purpose.

They used to say the same about a lockbox for Social Security. The money was raided. The fund was stolen. And -- and I'm just saying there are a lot of people listening to this, OK, this congressman is talking about...


BLUMENAUER: Well, you don't trust your city council, if you don't trust the Highway Commission over...


CAVUTO: You're talking about doubling the gas tax and acting like it's no big deal.


BLUMENAUER: I didn't say it was not a big deal. I said it is a big deal.

It's very important. The ability to fund transportation, because we have not raised the gas tax in 20 years and because of inflation, is...

CAVUTO: But you can't account for the money that has been allocated already, that is committed already.

BLUMENAUER: Absolutely, you can.

Look at your communities in terms of the bridge construction, the maintenance. This money, you can look at how it is spent. It's available. Listen to the businesspeople from the U.S. Chamber, from the contractors. Listen to local government. Listen to transit. Look at the problems they're having and how they're spending it.

CAVUTO: Congressman, you have been around in Washington a while. Do you honestly -- no, listen to me. This is an important point.

Do you honestly believe, working with the folks that you do, that the money you might get from this gas tax is going to be used exclusively and only for repairing roads and bridges and fixing our highways? Do you think that's really going to be the case? Does the history with the people you work with indicate that will ever be the case? Really?

BLUMENAUER: Well, why do you say that? Where do you think it's gone? How did the rail systems...

CAVUTO: Well, I don't know, because our -- our roads and bridges are for crap.

And -- and -- and this is after we have committed tens of millions of dollars each and every year through a variety of sources, and they're still falling apart. So, you're saying, well, maybe the difference and maybe the answer is more money.

BLUMENAUER: No, what I'm saying is that if you don't...

CAVUTO: The fact of the matter is, with the money we spent, we can't account for.

BLUMENAUER: You -- where do you get that you can't account for it? That's -- that's...


CAVUTO: Can you account for $42 billion? Can you spell out for me, Congressman, where that $42 billion has gone?

BLUMENAUER: The budget is available for every state, for the federal government, to actually look at.

CAVUTO: I'm aware of the budget. Can you tell me where it's gone? If the goal was to fix roads and bridges and they're still, accurately to your point, falling apart, methinks someone has stolen it, someone has taken it.


Well, I would be happy to sit down with you, Neil, and show you state transportation budgets. I assume Fox has a big research organization, and they can find out. I was just in Seattle. I was just in Seattle looking at what they're doing.

CAVUTO: You know, Congressman, I have asked this a variety of ways to make it simple for you.

You have advocated spending double what we do now on taxes for a gallon of gasoline, for roads and bridges and repair? I'm telling you, as a business guy here at the aforementioned Fox, keep track of the moneys that have been spent and what happened to moneys that should easily have addressed the problems you say need addressing now, because you could be advocating good money after bad.


BLUMENAUER: Neil, if you would look at the report from the American Council of Civil Engineers, you would find outlined exactly where the problems are.

This is not rocket science. And all the groups that have looked at it -- there was a bipartisan commission appointed by President Bush called for in the 2005 legislation that analyzed this.


CAVUTO: Right, and they analyzed it to the point saying, we do need to fix dilapidating roads and bridges, but we first have to find out, what the hell happened to the money we allocated to fix those roads and bridges already?

BLUMENAUER: Well, I would sit down, Neil, and talk to some of the state transportation authorities, talk to the mayors, talk to the transit agencies, and...

CAVUTO: Well, I have taken the liberty of doing that on this show. No one knows. No one has an answer. They can't account for it.

When I mentioned...


BLUMENAUER: Well, that's Fox News that doesn't know where it went.


CAVUTO: No, no.

Congressman, I mentioned...


BLUMENAUER: That's Fox News that doesn't know where it went.

CAVUTO: No, no, no, no. Don't be insulting.


BLUMENAUER: I have been in San Antonio.


CAVUTO: Congressman...

BLUMENAUER: Well, you're insulting me.

CAVUTO: Look around. I'm in a state run by a Republican governor.

BLUMENAUER: Look at the report, Neil.

CAVUTO: And they're working on Route 80 by me.

Since I have been in this state, the grandkids of the people who started working on those repairs are doing the same repairs. What Americans want to know is, how can you guarantee the new moneys you want from this won't compound the sin?

BLUMENAUER: I just finished indicating to you that independent studies from business, from Republican groups as well...

CAVUTO: You have no idea. You have no idea, do you? You have no idea.

BLUMENAUER: I think you don't have -- you purposely don't have an idea, because this money is available, is -- OK.

CAVUTO: You know, I cover this a lot, Congressman. I cover this a lot. And I get the same answer.

BLUMENAUER: OK. I -- thanks for you time.

And maybe it's because you're just wrong, Neil.

CAVUTO: Yes, well, that's...


BLUMENAUER: The money didn't disappear.

CAVUTO: All right.

BLUMENAUER: Some places, you would like it spent differently. There are things I would like to do better. But the notion that you cannot find it....


CAVUTO: No, that was transportation money. Transportation money goes to transportation.

BLUMENAUER: I'm just talking about transportation money.

CAVUTO: All right. All right. Well, God bless you.

BLUMENAUER: It's always a pleasure, Neil.


CAVUTO: I wish I could say the same.

BLUMENAUER: Have fun. You bet.

CAVUTO: Congressman, thank you very, very much.


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