Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said a combination of current-level gas tax receipts, road and bridge tolling and President Obama’s proposed infrastructure fund could offer a way to fund a long-term federal infrastructure program without new taxes.
Appearing before a heavily attended conference in Washington, D.C., of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, LaHood vowed “raising the gas tax is not an option” to increase money available for federal transport spending.
LaHood said the Highway Trust Fund’s income stream is “insufficient” to meet all the needs, and said “tolling can raise a lot of money” to augment it. The Obama administration has also asked Congress for a new $4 billion ongoing infrastructure fund that DOT would administer much like discretionary stimulus program grants, and LaHood said more use of creative public-private partnerships could help as well.
Adding up all such efforts, he said, raises the possibility of “a path forward without raising taxes.”
LaHood’s statement rejecting a fuel tax hike was the latest reiteration of the administration’s standing policy -- to oppose raising federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes while the economy is still recovering from recession and unemployment remains high.
But his July 23 comment also comes as the Department of Transportation prepares to issue guiding “principles” for how Congress develops its next multi-year surface transportation plan. Federal programs are due to expire at the end of this year unless lawmakers extend them again or pass a broad reauthorization that reshapes policy.
Many ARTBA members want the administration to back away from its fuel tax stance, and after his speech some were grumbling that a gas tax hike remains the simplest and least costly way to beef up transport infrastructure funding.
One ARTBA participant noted that LaHood early last year floated the idea of raising funds through a new tax on vehicle miles traveled, a concept that was soon rejected by the White House. Asked if a VMT plan could come back, LaHood quickly said, “No.”
Another participant asked him if a tax that helps transport programs could emerge from climate or energy legislation, but LaHood deflected the question by saying that is someone else’s portfolio. One bill offered by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., would have directed billions of dollars into the Highway Trust Fund from sale of carbon emission allowances, but that legislation has failed to gain broad support.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.