(What about the gas tax? We'll get to that): Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., says higher fees for 50-ton trucks and four other tax changes could raise enough money to keep federal highway repairs funded for the rest of 2014. If nothing is done by mid-July, he warns, the federal trust fund that finances highway improvements will run out of money this summer, cancelling jobs in Pennsylvania and other states with rundown highway systems.
Casey hopes the proposal can ease years of bickering in Congress over how to pay for aging roads, and will be followed by long-term solutions. He proposes, for now:
- Double the $550 cap on the annual federal "use tax" for heavy trucks to as much as $1,100 for vehicles that weigh over 48.5 tons. This would raise an additional $1.35 billion over 10 years, Casey says.
- Make the property tax break for mortgage interest depend on taxpayers reporting how much they owe on their loans, for what properties, and other basic loan data. Casey figures this will squeeze out $2.2 billion in tax breaks over 10 years, that would otherwise go to people who haven't earned them.
- Double, to six years, the period for which people who are caught substantially understating their income can have their taxes reassessed. Casey says that will raise another $1.3 billion over a decade.
- Make passport renewals dependant on paying up a taxpayer's tax debts (above $50,000) and child support (above $3,000). Casey figures the tax lien will raise $388 million over 10 years.
- Make very young people who inherit IRAs, pensions and annuities cash them in within 5 years of the account holder's death, "to close an estate-planning tax loophole." Casey says this will raise $3.7 billion over 10 years.
What about boosting the tax on gasoline? Not without Republicans: "Some people think a gas tax increase is the only way to get there. I' m not willing to support a gas tax without a longterm discussion, which must be bipartisan," Casey said in a phone press conference.
I noted that Casey has issued similar warnings about the underfunded federal private-pension trust fund (not to mention the Post Office, another Casey cause), and asked him if there's a pattern here that shows a lot of people now in Congress don't want the government honoring its past committments.
The senator wouldn't go there: Given the way all Congressional districts rely on federal highway funding, "transportation should be an easier lift than those pension issues," he said.