Former Republican Sen. Ray LaHood, who also served as Secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration, is calling for an increase in the federal tax on gasoline. Congress is currently facing a deadline to fund federal highway and mass-transit construction and repair.
LaHood has said that the highway trust fund is "broke" and that the U.S. interstate highway system is “one big pothole.”
In an interview with NPR on May 19, LaHood said "The gas tax in America has not been raised in 20 years. So, I don't know of anything that hasn't been raised in 20 years. And the reason Congress can't pass a multi-year transportation bill is because they haven't been able to come to grips with the idea that they need to raise the gas tax."
LaHood gave two reasons why the highway trust fund has not been sufficiently renewed. He said that Americans are driving less than before, thus diminishing the amount of revenue garnered at the pump, while new, fuel-efficient vehicles have also made inroads on the amount of fuel dispensed.
The former Transportation Secretary, who now advises Amtrak, said that the current fund is insufficient because the government has "not kept up with our infrastructure. For 50 years, we've built the best inter-state system in the world but we haven't kept it up and it's crumbling. And we've had some very brutal winters all across the northern part of America, and we have thousands of bridges in a bad state of repair and we have an interstate system that's turning to gravel because we haven't kept it up."
He admitted that it is very difficult for fellow Republicans to raise the gas tax. When asked whether a gas tax hike is regressive, LaHood said that the revenue goes throughout the country and puts "friends and neighbors to work" to build and repair the transportation system.
President Obama has not yet proposed a gas tax hike, but instead has called for taxing profits U.S. corporations make overseas. When asked about this, LaHood said it is unlikely that businesses and business groups would agree to use what Obama has called "repatriated funds" to fund the transportation system. LaHood said that the president has his own ideas about funding highway construction and repair.
LaHood advocated a gas tax hike of 10 cents per gallon over the current 13 cents per gallon rate. By indexing the tax to the cost of living, said LaHood, the federal government could raise as much as $1 billion per year.
CATO, a libertarian think-tank, noted in a 2014 article that since 2008, Congress has replenished the highway trust fund with $55 billion in general funds. However, this has not been a subsidy for highways: over the last ten years, Congress diverted much more than $55 billion of gas taxes to non-highway projects. According to CATO, “Increasing the gas tax would simply allow Congress to increase spending on often-frivolous projects that do nothing for highway travelers, with no guarantee that it would keep spending below revenues. Thus, in two or three years we would be likely to see the fund once again run out of money.” CATO also disagreed with the premise that highways are in a deteriorating state.
As an alternative to the proposals coming from the White House, or advocates such as LaHood, CATO proposed: "Rather than raise gas taxes, Congress should take steps towards implementing a new user fee system that preserves privacy, ends congestion, and eliminates highway subsidies." In other words: the implementation of tolls.
U.S. Navy personnel have discovered the remains of an American aviator who was shot down in combat over the Pacific Ocean in 1944. A team aboard USNS ...