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November 30, 2009

Congress will debate gas tax increase, transportation secretary says

Gas-pump Congress will consider raising the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993, among a range of other options to increase revenue for highways, bridges and transit, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday morning during a transportation summit in Fort Worth.Lahood

LaHood pledged to work with Congress on passing a five-year transportation bill in 2010. The main sticking point, he said, is that about $500 billion in highway, bridge and transit needs have been identified, but the federal gas tax -- currently 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline -- can't generate that kind of dough.

"The problem we have is, Congress wants to pass a very robust transportation bill in the neighborhood of $400 billion or $500 billion, and we know the highway trust fund is just deficient in its ability to fund those kinds of projects," LaHood said during the seventh annual North Texas Transportation Summit, which was held at Texas Motor Speedway. "The highway trust fund was substantial at one time but now with people driving less, and driving more fuel-efficient cars, it has become deficient.

"To index the federal fuel tax, that's something Congress is going to have to decide. As we get into the reauthorization bill, the debate will be how we fund all the things we want to do. You can raise a lot of money with tolling. Another means of funding can be the infrastructural bank. You can sell bonds and set aside money for big projects, multibillion-dollar projects. Another way is (charging a fee to motorists for) vehicle miles traveled. The idea of indexing the taxes that are collected at the gas pump is something I believe Congress will debate. When the gas tax was raised in 1992 or 1993, in the Clinton administration, there was a big debate whether it should be indexed. At that time, they thought there'd be a sufficient amount of money collected. Now we know that isn't the case. That is one way to keep up with the decline in driving, and more fuel-efficient cars."

The idea of indexing the gas tax so that it increases gradually, year to year, as the cost of building roads goes up, is gaining steam at both the state and federal levels, several experts who follow transportation policy say.

In Texas, motorists also pay a state gas tax of 20 cents per gallon.

The summit is hosted each year by Congressman Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville.

It should also be noted that, while LaHood called for a debate on increasing the federal gas tax, he didn't specifically say the Obama administration supported such an increase. On that subject, he said the ball was in Congress' court.

-- Gordon.


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Daniel Morales

Whether it's more fuel-efficient (ie, lighter) vehicles or less vehicle-miles driven, or a combination, the end result is the same: less wear and tear on the highways. That loss in revenue is proportionally offset by a decrease in repair/maintenance costs. Seeing as they have never seen fit to pass along those savings to the public, I can't see where they can justify raising the gas tax.

James Boldebuck

Almost every person in the USA has been affected in some way by the economic downturn.People are losing jobs, houses,cars etc. We are being asked at every turn to cut back. So before we commit $500 billion to the transportation dept lets check and see if they can reduce their cost of doing business just like a business would be required to do.


If they do this (raise the tax on gasoline)will the toll ways go away? One can only wish. I live near Dallas and half of the major thoroughfares are toll roads, and Fort Worth is talking about adding some also. I understand that Austin has its fair share too. If I take 161 from Grand Prarie to Garland pulling my trailer on my pick-up truck, it will cost me $37 one way on the toll way. Robbery.


The fundamental problem is that all roads are money losers. Even TxDOT admits to this:
In Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 would require a gas tax of over $2 per gallon just to break even.


@Daniel Morales,

Personal vehicles only abrade the surface of modern roadways. The concrete is thick enough that they can run on it in perpetuity without cracking the structure.

Modern roadway are structurally deteriorated by heavy trucks and freezing.

Now older roads, especially city streets, are much more vulnerable to degradation by ordinary traffic. But generally speaking, streets are paid for not by the fuel tax, but instead by property taxes.

So your argument has elements of truth to it, but it ignores the constant need to expand the road network to accommodate increased traffic. People live ever farther from their employment, in larger houses on larger lots. That means they have to drive farther, on more road miles, to complete their journeys. It's the cost to construct new rural and suburban highways and to expand existing secondary arterials into highways that cost so much.

Someone has to pay for that infrastructure. It should be those who use it, and I doubt you're going to be happy if the Feds put a GPS in your car and charge you a toll based on where and when you drive. Ditto with camera tolling. So fuel taxes are the only reasonable alternative.

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