At the risk of beating a dead horse, let me restate the obvious: We all know that the highway trust fund is insufficient to maintain the country's current transportation infrastructure, let alone improve it. Lawmakers would be more than happy to bolster spending for highways, railroads, and bridges if only they could make the dollars materialize out of thin air. Meanwhile, economists and transportation-related business and labor groups all seem to land at the same answer for raising the money--a fuel tax increase, either per gallon or per miles traveled. Last week, the chairmen of President Obama's bipartisan debt commission proposed a 15-cent per-gallon gas tax hike to fully fund highway infrastructure. A few days before the draft debt commission outline was released, Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, proposed a 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase.
Yet the idea of a fuel tax hike can't even get off the ground in Congress. Republican leaders have outright rejected it, even though they generally agree that infrastructure investment is among the more efficient ways to spur job growth.
How can this impasse be resolved? Are there ways to present a fuel tax to the public such that it doesn't seem so onerous? Can a fuel tax be packaged with other revenue raisers that are more popular with Republicans (say, unused stimulus funds) to make it go down easier? How important is the involvement of the White House in selling a fuel tax? And finally, are there other ways to pay for infrastructure that don't involve a fuel tax at all?