The national commission formed to study transportation investment and priorities issued a call Tuesday for a 25 to 40-cent increase in the nation's gas tax as part of a broader series of proposals they said are needed to repair the nation's crumbling infrastructure.
The sharply divided panel, formed two years ago by Congress as part of the SAFETEA-LU highway spending plan, endorsed by a 9-3 vote the gas tax plan and a series of proposals including public-private partnerships and other programs to bring more funding to highways, mass transit and other transport needs.
"The crisis is not coming, it is here," said Tom Skancke, one of the 12 members of the National Surface Transportation Revenue Policy and Study Commission.
Jack Schenendorf, vice chairman of the panel, said the nation's transportation infrastructure is already in crisis. "We are in a death spiral," he said.
But Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters issued a strongly worded minority report denouncing the call for an increase in the gas tax, saying, "Raising gas taxes won't improve traffic congestion, it will only perpetuate our ineffective reliance on fossil-based fuels to fund infrastructure and send more of Americans' hard-earned money to Washington to be squandered on earmarks and special interest programs.
Peters, who was chairman of the commission, did not attend the release of the report nor did fellow commissioners Maria Cino, a former DOT official, and Richard Geddes, a senior staff economist in the Bush administration's Council of Economic Advisors, who also did not sign the final report.
Even Paul Weyrich, a commission member and long time Republican Party strategist, endorsed the call for a tax increase and called for bipartisan support of the commission's recommendations. He said the secretary's opposition was irrelevant because the tax increase will have to be taken up by the next administration.