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Old Tax, New Fees Among Options for Highway Funding – Politico

Pols weigh highway funding options

The next highway and transit bill might be more than a year away, but a string of major infrastructure failures has lawmakers and advocates already thinking about how to boost funding.The Highway Trust Fund is set to dive deep into the red in the coming years, a problem that has gained extra attention with last month’s collapse of an Interstate 5 bridge in Washington state, the Metro-North rail crash in Connecticut and several other major recent failures.Lawmakers are reluctant to talk in detail about their ideas, but it’s clear that funding will be the key to the bill’s success — or failure.

“The debate in Washington about the next bill is not going to be about what America needs,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at this week’s Transportation Construction Coalition fly-in, an annual event that draws many of the country’s top infrastructure advocates. “How do we pay for it? That’s what the debate will be.”

Here are the pros and cons of four of the most talked-about ways to raise more infrastructure money.

1) Raise the gasoline tax

Pro: In a tax-averse Congress, the gas tax can’t be slapped with the fatal “new tax” label — it’s been around for more than 50 years.

It’s also one of the cheapest taxes to collect, offers little room for fraud and has a proven collection mechanism. Most gas stations would need only a few keystrokes to update their per-gallon price to reflect the increased tax.

And a strong coalition supports hiking the tax, including some unlikely allies like labor groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber rarely supports tax hikes, a point supporters hope to hammer home over the next year.

Con: Boosting the 18.4-cents-per-gallon tax, which has been stagnant for more than 20 years, is one of the toughest sells on Capitol Hill, especially with the economy slow to recover and gas prices fluctuating between high and very high. A recent Gallup poll found that two-thirds of drivers oppose a gas tax hike, even if the money goes to roads.

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