LaHood: Administration opposed to increasing fuel taxes

| 6/5/2009

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the Obama administration is against raising gasoline taxes to pay for transportation programs. Truckers should know that LaHood’s position also refers to diesel.

LaHood told a congressional subcommittee on Thursday, June 4, that transportation funding will have to come from somewhere other than that particular form of tax increase.

“I think I’ve been very frank about the fact that the administration does not want to raise the gas tax,” LaHood told the U.S. House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee.

Following the hearing, a U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman confirmed to Land Line Magazine that the administration’s position on the gasoline tax “applies to diesel as well.”

Truckers who make up 7 percent of highway users but pay for 36 percent of the nation’s transportation infrastructure are paying attention to what is being said on Capitol Hill.

“In highway user circles, you need to mention the difference between gasoline and diesel,” said Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“At least it puts the administration on a little bit of notice that we’re paying attention to the nuances of the words that the secretary uses.”

LaHood was quite clear on other points. He said he believes tolling and public-private partnerships have a place in infrastructure funding.

“I was in Miami where on an existing road they built what’s called a HOT lane and used tolls to do it. So if you want to go faster and get out of congestion you get in the HOT lane,” LaHood told the subcommittee.

“You can add capacity to highways by doing that. You can build bridges by tolling and you can raise a lot of money to do it. We’ve also talked about public-private partnerships. There are people – maybe not right at the moment because the economy’s not that great – that are willing to invest.”

OOIDA’s Joyce told Land Line Now on Sirius XM that the Association appreciates LaHood speaking about tolling for new highway capacity only.

“He talked about tolling roads. He did it in the context of adding new capacity, which we certainly appreciate,” Joyce said.

LaHood told the subcommittee that the Obama administration inherited a transportation system that can no longer pay for itself. He said the Highway Trust Fund is headed for a shortfall by mid-August.

Congress and the president will have to approve any short-term fixes for the Trust Fund while select congressional committees continue to hammer out a long-term funding plan in the next authorization bill.

“Everybody is interested in how we’re going to fund this next bill and there’s a lot of talk right now about having a unified trust fund, but our understanding of those recommendations is that they would take Highway Trust Fund user dollars, especially trucker dollars, and redistribute the wealth to mass-transit users and bike riders who are not being asked to share in that burden,” Joyce said.

“We are paying a tremendous burden and I don’t want to see that increased without the addition of new capacity.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer