Politics & Government

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood discusses raising gas tax during Texas trip

FORT WORTH — Congress should consider raising the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday during a visit to 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 although about $500 billion in highway, bridge and transit needs have been identified, the federal gas tax — 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline — can't generate that much revenue.

One idea — indexing the gas tax so it increases gradually, as the cost of building roads goes up — is gaining steam at the state and federal levels. Texans pay the federal tax and a 20 cents-a-gallon state tax.

"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 at the seventh annual North Texas Transportation Summit 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.

"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."

Later Monday, LaHood spokeswoman Maureen Knightly clarified that the Obama administration still opposes increasing the gas tax, and that LaHood merely supports a debate on funding alternatives.

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