Transportation policy leaders agree that infrastructure funding is a bipartisan issue, but consensus on raising the federal gas tax remains elusive.
Former U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, addressing a Feb. 4 forum in Washington, D.C., said, "We should have raised the gas tax already and index it to inflation. I would've raised it by 10¢," he said to applause.
But a fellow panelist on the Bloomberg Government-hosted discussion of U.S. infrastructure investment, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said it was "not the time economically." He suggested using royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling and repatriated overseas corporate profits.
Along with Victor Menendez, acting deputy secretary for the U.S. DOT, and former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.), the two Republicans concurred that infrastructure investment by the private sector—in conjunction with government— is key. "There is a great market for the private sector to contribute ideas," said Rendell, who shares with LaHood the chairmanship of a bipartisan coalition called Building America's Future.
When asked why infrastructure banks was a "tough sell" politically, LaHood contended, "Because it's Obama's idea. The same thing happened with high-speed rail."
Shuster noted that, over the years, he has become "a convert" to passenger rail and that the U.S. should focus on higher-speed rail, especially in the Northeast Corridor. Regarding the possibility of getting a full transportation re- authorization bill, rather than yet another short-term extension, Rendell replied, "Zero, before the election. After the election, maybe 100%." LaHood and Mendez both cited the need to stop looking at the different modes separately.
Looking at rail, road, ports and airports separately is "an antiquated approach," said LaHood.