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 Obama Highway Plan Fuels Talk of Gas Tax Hike

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Alley_Oop Mod/Admin

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PostSubject: Obama Highway Plan Fuels Talk of Gas Tax Hike   Mon Oct 11, 2010 6:11 pm

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Two former transportation secretaries who recentlyco-chaired a panel that proposes gas tax hikes and user fees to pay forgovernment transportation projects joined [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] Monday as he called for a $50 billion immediate investment in roads, rails and runways.
And while the president has not endorsedthe proposals by ex-officials Norm Mineta and Samuel Skinner, someindustry experts insist gas prices will have to rise to pay for thegrand plans.
"These reforms and innovations will not becheap," said AAA President Robert Darbelnet. "All funding options mustbe on the table -- including an increase in the federal [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]tax."
The current federal gas tax, which has remained unchanged since 1993, is 18.4 cents per gallon. Combined with state and other taxes, Americans pay an average of 48 cents extra on every gallon of gasoline -- any increase in the federal tax, based onproposals floated in the past, could easily push the price of regulargas to $3 a gallon.
In an election year, the Obamaadministration is not talking about the gas tax. A White House officialtold FoxNews.com the administration wants to fund the $50 billion investment -- a down payment on a broader six-year transportation program -- by closing tax loopholes for [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] companies and has not proposed any more fuel taxes.

But some say the kinds of investments the federal government is looking at, short- and long-term, may require a tax increase.
Jill Ingrassia, managing director ofgovernment relations and traffic safety advocacy at AAA, toldFoxNews.com that the tax loopholes Obama talks about closing might notyield enough.
"I think we've closed a lot of thoseloopholes in the last two (transportation bills). I don't know ifthere's a lot more to be gained in that area," she said.
Though AAA is not proposing a specific taxplan, Ingrassia estimated that the nearly $500 billion, six-yeartransportation budget being drafted in the House TransportationCommittee would require about a 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase tofund it.
"We have come to the conclusion after muchdiscussion that a gas tax increase likely is going to be necessarygoing forward," she said.
The reason analysts say a fuel tax may be necessary is that the Highway Trust Fund, the federal [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]that uses fuel tax revenue to pay for highway maintenance, has for thepast several years required infusions from other accounts. In otherwords, the trust fund can't survive anymore on fuel taxes alone -- atleast not at the current rates.
Prominent federal studies over the pastseveral years have drawn this conclusion and, in turn, called for a gastax hike. The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue StudyCommission in 2008 said federal fuel taxes should rise by up to 40cents per gallon over five years. The National Commission on SurfaceTransportation Infrastructure Financing called for a 10-cent increasein a 2009 report.
In the [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.],the panel co-chaired by Mineta and Skinner suggested raising the fueltax in the short-term and then instituting a system that chargesAmericans for every mile they drive in the long-term.
The report estimated that the "gap" betweenwhat the federal government has and what the federal government needsfor transportation projects falls somewhere between $134 billion and$262 billion a year.
Without commenting on the contents, Obamatouted their report Monday as a "call to action demanding a fundamentaloverhaul of how America approaches [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] and building our infrastructure."
Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst with the CatoInstitute, said it'll be politically tricky to talk about the gas taxin the current environment, but predicted there would be apost-election push to do so, even if not by Obama.
"I think there'll be a massive push for agas tax increase," he said. "That's not going to be anything that'sgoing to come up before November, but certainly after November it'sgoing to be discussed."
DeHaven, though, argued for more privateindustry involvement, claiming that the gas tax has only served tofinance a federal "slush fund." He said that part of the problemcontributing to the trust fund's red ink is that lawmakers peel awayhighway dollars for non-highway programs like mass transit, bicyclepaths, beautification projects and earmarks.
A Treasury Department report releasedMonday stressed the possibility of private investment as part of thecountry's broader transportation vision. The report noted "there iscurrently very little direct private investment" in America's highways and said that a proposed "National Infrastructure Bank" could set the stage for "greater private sector co-investment in [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]."
Obama did not go into detail Monday about how his transportation goals could be financed, saying only that it "will be fully paid for" and will not add to the deficit. But he stressed his plan as an administration priority and said the investmentis critical for America to keep its competitive edge.
"We invest less than half of what Russia does in their infrastructure. ... Everywhere else, they're thinking big," he said. "We can no longer afford to sit still."

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