As we approach one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, there’s increasing chatter about Washington’s next cliff: Highway funding shortfall.
President Obama had been president for only five months when he sent Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to Capitol Hill to deliver some bad news to the House Democrats hoping to pass an expansive highway bill: Scale back. The new administration had just passed a controversial stimulus bill and planned to invest its remaining political capital in health-care reform. A pricey infrastructure bill that would require raising taxes to pay for it was not in the cards.
LaHood suggested then that perhaps transportation could be funded through a fee that measured miles traveled rather than gas consumed, but was shut down by Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.
So LaHood toed the White House line of no new taxes until he left the job and the shackles were removed. Only then did he begin saying what he probably felt all along, and what many believe to be true: An increase in the nation’s gas tax is the best way to pay for the nation’s dire transportation needs in the short term until a better pay-for is found (more on that here).
Obama’s new transportation secretary seems to be in a similar balancing act. The White House remains steadfastly against raising the 18.4-cent per gallon gas tax for the first time since 1993 despite the cold hard reality that the trust fund that pays for transportation projects across the country is fast approaching bankruptcy. Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters at a breakfast this week that the administration would “keep an open mind” about a gas tax increase if Congress passed one (unlikely), but indicated it’s not a favorable approach (aka politically expedient).
With Foxx warning states this week that they’ll begin to receive less federal money than promised for their transportation needs if Congress does nothing, it makes us wonder what Foxx, like LaHood, really thinks about the gas tax?
(Wonder how much raising the gas tax would cost you? Kiplinger has an awesome calculator.)