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 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.