LaHood Talks of Mileage-Based Tax, but White House Dismisses Idea

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 21, 2009

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood suggested yesterday that the Obama administration might embrace a new and controversial way to pay for highway and transit projects: charging motorists a tax for every mile they drive.

But no sooner was the idea being batted around by cable commentators and commuters than spokesmen for the White House and LaHood's own department shot it down -- hard.

"It is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said when asked at his daily briefing about LaHood's remarks, which were made in an interview with the Associated Press.

"So was Secretary LaHood speaking out of turn here?" an AP reporter asked at the briefing.

"I would direct you to Secretary LaHood on that," Gibbs said.

"Well, we actually interviewed him," the reporter noted.

"Well, call him back," Gibbs said.

White House and Transportation Department officials said later that there was never any difference between their views and the position of LaHood, a Republican and former Illinois congressman who does not have much background in transportation. Officials said that his comments were part of a long interview about a range of transportation issues and that he never specifically advocated taxing drivers by the mile.

According to the AP, LaHood said: "We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled."

In the interview, he also ruled out raising the gas tax, the primary source of transportation funding.

Although the Obama administration immediately dismissed the idea of a tax on miles traveled, the concept has been recommended by many business and interest groups, and a handful of states have experimented with it.

Revenue from gas taxes is becoming problematic as cash-strapped Americans drive less and buy more fuel-efficient cars, leaving the government with a growing hole in funds to pay for the nation's aging highway system.

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