Record oil company profits may be a way to fix transportation funding woes, at least according to two states that are looking to take a slice of those profits for transportation programs.
Democratic governors from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are proposing taxing the gross profits of big oil companies to finance public transportation.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle's plan - a 2.5 percent tax on gross receipts of oil companies - would raise $272 million over a two-year period, according to James Rahm, a staffer in Doyle's office. The state's Joint Finance Committee advanced the measure May 31, he said.
"In my budget, I proposed that the big oil companies start paying their fair share and start helping to pay for the transportation infrastructure we have in this state," Doyle said in a statement last month. "These oil companies benefit from our roads and they should help Wisconsin taxpayers with the bill."
According to a statement from Doyle's office, in 2006 British Petroleum, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobile earned a combined $113.3 billion in profits.
In Pennsylvania, where Gov. Edward G. Rendell is pushing a controversial plan to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the governor proposed in his budget a tax on oil company profits to address an annual transportation budget shortfall of $760 million.
But the plans in both states have plenty of critics.
"It's singling out the industry for no particular reason," said John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute. "Their notion of the industry as being excessively profitable and not paying their fair share is wrong."
Gregory Cohen, president and CEO of the American Highways Users Alliance, said he doubted whether a tax on oil company profits would work.
"I'm concerned it won't be a stable source of revenue," he said. "What happens next year if the oil companies lose money?"