US House panel considers gasoline tax increase

The US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is considering raising the federal gasoline tax to fund repairs of bridges and other infrastructure in the National Highway System.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 10 -- The US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is considering raising the federal gasoline tax to fund repairs of bridges and other infrastructure in the National Highway System. The proposal is part of a larger response to the Aug. 1 rush-hour collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis that killed at least five people.

"Certainly, raising [the gasoline tax] is on the table. Historically, it's how we've funded bridge and highway projects," a committee spokesman told OGJ on Aug. 9. "It probably is how we'll go this time, but nothing, including the amount of an increase, has been decided yet."

As he announced the initiative on Aug. 8 in Minneapolis, HTI Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) said the US Department of Transportation rates as "structurally deficient" about 73,784 US highway bridges. Oberstar said the bill would significantly increase bridge inspection requirements, provide dedicated funding, distribute funds based on public safety and need, and establish a fund similar to the Highway Trust Fund, which would finance repairs and replacement of structurally deficient highway bridges.

Oberstar said he has scheduled a hearing of the full committee to examine the highway bridge problem on Oct. 5 and that he will work to get the bill through Congress. He and other committee members emphasized that congressional and administrative earmarks would be prohibited under the legislation and that revenues deposited in its trust fund would not be available for any other purpose.

President George W. Bush remained cool to possibly raising the federal gasoline tax. "You know, it's an interesting question about how Congress spends and prioritizes highway money. My suggestion would be that they revisit the process by which they spend gasoline money in the first place," he said during an Aug. 9 press conference.

Noting that the committee is one of the House's largest, Bush added, "From my perspective, the ways it seems to have worked is that each member on that committee gets to set his or her own priority first, and then whatever is left over is spent through a funding formula. That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money."

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

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