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National panel adds to calls for federal gas tax hike

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    Published Friday, January 2, 2009, by the Associated Press Motorists habits spur call for gas tax increases By Joan Lowy Associated Press WASHINGTON --
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2009
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      Published Friday, January 2, 2009, by the Associated Press

      Motorists' habits spur call for gas tax increases

      By Joan Lowy
      Associated Press

      WASHINGTON -- Motorists are driving less and buying less gasoline,
      which means fuel taxes aren't raising enough money to keep pace with
      the cost of road, bridge and transit programs.

      A federal commission created by Congress to find a way to make up the
      growing revenue shortfall in the program that funds highway repairs
      and construction is talking about increasing federal gas and diesel
      taxes.

      A roughly 50 percent increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes is
      being urged by the commission until the government devises another
      way for motorists to pay for using public roads.

      The 15-member National Commission on Surface Transportation
      Infrastructure Financing is the second group in a year to call for
      increasing the current 18.4 cents a gallon federal tax on gasoline
      and the 24.4 cents a gallon tax on diesel. State fuel taxes vary
      from state to state.

      In a report expected in late January, members of the infrastructure
      financing commission say they will urge Congress to raise the gas tax
      by 10 cents a gallon and the diesel tax by about 12 cents to 15 cents
      a gallon. At the same time, the commission will recommend tying the
      fuel tax rates to inflation.

      The commission will also recommend that states raise their fuel taxes
      and make greater use of toll roads and fees for rush-hour driving.

      Although the cost of gasoline has dropped dramatically in recent
      months, such tax increases could be politically treacherous for

      Democratic leaders in Congress. A gas tax hike was one of the reasons
      they lost control of the House and Senate in the 1994 elections.
      President-elect Barack Obama has expressed concern about raising
      fuel taxes in the current economic climate.

      But commission members said the government must find more road and
      bridge building money somewhere.

      "I'm not excited about a gas tax increase, but the reality is our
      current gas tax doesn't pay for upkeep of the system we have now,"
      said Adrian Moore, vice president of the Reason Foundation, a
      libertarian think tank in Los Angeles, and a member of the highway
      revenue commission. "We can either let the roads go to hell or we
      can pay more."

      The dilemma for Congress is that highway and transit programs are
      dependent for revenue on fuel taxes that are not sustainable. Many
      Americans are driving less and switching to more fuel-efficient cars
      and trucks, and a shift to new fuels and technologies like plug-in
      hybrid electric cars will further erode gasoline sales.

      According to a draft of the financing commission's recommendations,
      the nation needs to move to a new system that taxes motorists
      according to how much they use roads. While details have not been
      worked out, such a system would mean equipping every car and truck
      with a device that uses global positioning satellites and transponders
      to record how many miles the vehicle has been driven, and perhaps the
      type of roads and time of day.

      "Most if not all of the commissioners have a strong belief and
      commitment that we need a fundamental transformation of the current
      system," said commission chairman Robert Atkinson, president of the
      Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a technology policy
      think tank in Washington.

      A study by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies
      estimated that the annual gap between revenues and the investment
      needed to improve highway and transit systems was about $105 billion
      in 2007, and will increase to $134 billion in 2017 under current
      trends.

      Projected shortfalls in revenue led the National Surface
      Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, in a report
      issued in January 2008, to call for an increase of as much as
      40 cents a gallon in the gas tax, phased in over five years.

      Charles Whittington, chairman of the American Trucking Associations,
      which supports a fuel tax increase as long as the money goes to
      highway projects, said Congress may decide to disguise a fuel tax
      hike as a surcharge to combat climate change.

      Transportation is responsible for about a third of all U.S. carbon
      emissions created by burning fossil fuels. Traffic congestion wastes
      an estimated 2.9 billion gallons of fuel a year. Less congestion
      would reduce greenhouse gases and dependence on foreign oil.

      "Instead of calling it a gas tax, call it a carbon tax," Whittington
      said.

      Bottlenecks around the nation cost the trucking industry about 243
      million lost truck hours and about $7.8 billion per year, according
      to the commission.


      On the Net: http://financecommission.dot.gov/index.htm
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