(CNSNews.com) - "Is it a responsibility of the entire country to pay for our infrastructure, or should we shift the burden on those who use it?" Rep. Dave Jolly (R-Fla.) asked on Tuesday.
Jolly, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was talking about looming shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for the nation's transportation projects through the federal tax on fuel.
A caller to CSPAN's "Washington Journal" asked Jolly about user fees: "I drive a lot on the highways, north and south," the caller said. "Why don't we tax the people who are trying to use our markets, to subsidize the roads they're tearing up...Let these countries that are using our markets help pay for this burden."
"I couldn't agree with you more," Jolly said.
"What you touched on -- paying for ports, dredging, borders, etc., brings up the concept of user fees. Right, who is using our infrastructure? Is it an international company or national? And should they be paying for it? So, who should pay for it? Is it a responsibility of the entire country to pay for our infrastructure, or should we shift the burden more on those who use it?
"What's a user fee?" Jolly continued. "Well, a toll is a perfect example. You know, as you've seen an increase in tolling, it is the people who use the road who then pay for it. Should we do that with all of our transportation nodes? I don't know that that's the final answer, but you're seeing a lot of people talk more about user fees, particularly at the state level, as they continue to look for revenue sources to pay for the infrastructure that we need."
House Republicans introduced a two-month extension of the federal highway and mass transit funding program last week, to keep the money flowing while they work on a long-term solution.
"We have to prioritize transportation funding," Jolly insisted. "The question is always, how do we pay for it?"
Historically, Jolly noted, fuel taxes paid at the pump have funded the Highway Trust Fund. But as vehicles become more fuel efficient, the tax revenue has fallen far short of the nation's infrastructure needs.
"Once we identify the resources, we can get a multi-year bill," Jolly said.
He noted that President Obama wants to raise money through a 14-percent, across-the board corporate tax. Some lawmakers have suggested raising the federal fuel tax, but Republicans oppose both those measures.
Jolly also mentioned repatriation -- which would allow the federal government to tax the earnings of American companies that move their operations overseas. "I think that's something we should entertain, in a way that doesn't slow growth," Jolly said. He said the business community has indicated that anything below a ten-percent tax on repatriated earnings is something they would consider acceptable.
"If we were able to do that, if we were able to take a repatriation formula, and in some way fund (the trust fund) two, three or four years, we don't need an increase in the feederal fuel tax, but it might make politically possible the idea of indexing the federal fuel tax."
Indexing would raise the tax in line with inflation.
"So the federal fuel tax is not indexed, and so as fuel efficiency standards continue to improve, the revenue from fuel taxes continues to decrease -- many states, including my state of Florida, have already indexed their federal fuel tax, much like we indexed other cost-of-living programs.
"I'm not prepared to endorse that today, but it's something we should put on the table, because understand, if we can get a repatriation revenue source, for instance, to get us two, three, or four years down the road, at the same time instituting an annual index to the federal fuel tax, then three or four years from now, when that repatriation money has been used for infrastructure -- the federal fuel tax will have gone up to where the revenue needs to be.
"I think that's a reasonable point of discussion."
The federal gasoline tax has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. State taxes vary widely.