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DeFazio’s moment has been a long time coming

April 22nd, 2021 by dk

A decade ago I joined a handful of architects and design professionals every year for an annual pilgrimage to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The goal was always to meet with Oregon’s elected officials and to highlight upcoming legislative priorities for their industry.

I remember one year — maybe 2009 — sitting on Rep. Peter DeFazio’s office couch. We were making the case for expanding broadband access to more residences and offices as a way to reduce our collective carbon footprint.

DeFazio’s most powerful perch at the time was Chair of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, which doesn’t have anything to do with faster wi-fi.

I suggested from that leather sofa that more telecommuting could reduce road wear, extending their longevity. “Could you take some funding from construction and maintenance and dedicate it to broadband subsidies? Like how power companies offer incentives for customers to insulate their homes so they use less energy?”

There was an uncharacteristic pause. DeFazio glanced to his aide, “Can we do that?”

The aide replied, “I don’t think so. But I’ll check.” She scribbled some notes on a yellow legal pad, and the meeting continued.

Meetings with members of Congress always end with a group photo to memorialize the moment. Weather permitting, DeFazio likes to step out onto his balcony, where photos can feature the Capitol dome prominently in the background.

“I’ve been here for so long that I could have just about any office in this complex,” he told me as phones were shuttled to a staffer for photos, “but I never tire of this view, so I keep this office — and this balcony.”

Most perks in the House of Representatives are determined by seniority. DeFazio outranks all but five of his colleagues. He came to Congress before Nancy Pelosi. He’s kept his seat longer than any other member of Oregon’s delegation, ever. And now he’s finally Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It’s been a long time coming.

He and his staff will work harder this spring than they ever have. They will be crafting the legislative language for President Joe Biden’s $2 billion infrastructure bill. The sprawling initiative will not be limited to roads and bridges. It will include many other overdue improvements to America’s infrastructure, broadly defined. And yes, it will include substantial upgrades for Internet access, especially in rural areas.

What the bill probably won’t include is any increase in gas taxes. The federal gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents since drivers could find a gallon for less than a buck. If the tax had been indexed to inflation in 1993, today it would be 33.7 cents per gallon.

DeFazio hopes to use his power and position to make lasting changes across America. His portion of Biden’s American Jobs Plan should index gas taxes to inflation going forward and rescind gas stations’ unique allowance to add nine-tenths of a penny to their product’s price. A fractional penny made sense when a gallon of gas was a quarter. It costs ten times that now, so tenths of pennies should no longer be necessary.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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