President Obama, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar have all rejected the idea of raising the gas tax during a recession. Last week during debate on a bill to extend the surface transportation law through the end of the year, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia tried to use a parliamentary procedure to put the House on record with "a public rejection of increasing the gas tax" (the gambit failed and the chamber voted 335-85 for the three-month extension of SAFETEA-LU, which expires October 1).
Last week also saw the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Trucking Associations and the AAA together endorse raising the gas tax to increase investment in a larger but significantly reformed surface transportation program. They urged Congress to reject the 18-month extension proposed by the Obama administration and the Senate and instead to move quickly on reauthorization.
Transportation groups from across the political spectrum agree on the need for a new, reformed law soon and they are willing to support higher fuels taxes to get it. Yet there is significant resistance at the White House and in Congress to doing just that. How can transportation advocates battle these political headwinds to speed up and ease passage of the kind of surface transportation program they want? If raising the gas tax now is a non-starter, what other options are available to pay for the bill, and can they supply the necessary funds?