Highway Bill's Funding Pothole

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to release its version of the next highway bill in a matter of minutes ... or hours ... or perhaps tomorrow. It's reportedly being held up by differences over how to fund $450 billion in transportation spending.

The Wall Street Journal's Christopher Conkey reports that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, opposes any increase in the federal fuels tax on gasoline and diesel to bolster the sagging Highway Trust Fund.

The gasoline and diesel levies haven't changed since 1993, and several business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and two congressional commissions have recommended increases. But at the words "gas tax hike," congressional nerve melts faster than butter in a frying pan.

The federal gas tax, by the way, is 18.4 cents per gallon. The diesel tax is 24.4 cents per gallon.

In recent years we've heard many suggestions and recommendations for new ways to raise transport funds — from taxing drivers based on how many vehicle miles they travel to public-private partnerships that toll existing or new roads. Those ideas are controversial and problematic as well.

One thing is clear: fuel tax revenues are falling, and are likely to decline as fuel costs rise, Americans drive fewer miles and alternative transportation options and vehicle choices become available.

Unless we can fill the funding gap, the wheels of our economy may get stuck in a pothole that will cost much more than a few billion dollars to fix.

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