Former DOT Chiefs Offer Gas Tax Advice to Next Administration

By Stephanie Beasley

May 16 — The next administration should make it a priority to persuade Congress to pass a multibillion-dollar infrastructure stimulus package and raise fuel taxes to pay for it, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

Speaking May 16 at an Infrastructure Week event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, former Obama administration Cabinet member LaHood suggested the next president move quickly to build support for a stimulus package that could be coupled with an increase in federal fuel taxes to create a “big pot of money” for infrastructure.

“A new president and a new Congress should really think about an infrastructure stimulus bill, maybe $500 billion, to really jump-start the opportunity and at the same time raise the gas tax and index it,” LaHood said. “We'll get back to being number one, if we do that.”

Former Transportation Secretary James Burnley, however, said the proposal was disconnected from political reality. There isn't enough political support for the kind of stimulus package LaHood envisions, he said.

‘All of the Above' Approach

The 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, which helps support the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), hasn’t been raised since 1993.

Burnley, who served under President Ronald Reagan, added that even if the gas tax were doubled, it wouldn't close the shortfall between available funding in the HTF and national needs. He suggested that the federal government instead work with state officials to take an “all of the above” approach that would consider a multitude of ideas and not just focus on raising fuel taxes.

“If we are narrow-minded in our approach to this issue and we just talk about gas taxes and diesel taxes, we simply won't get there,” he said.

Congress passed a five-year, $305 billion highway-transit law—the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (Pub. L. No. 114-94)—late last year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the HTF will need an additional $100 billion to remain solvent through 2025.

Meanwhile, Mary Peters, former Transportation Secretary for President George W. Bush, said that as the next administration seeks revenue sources for surface transportation and other programs including aviation, it should consider more clearly defining the federal role in the decision-making process for state and local infrastructure funding. Once the federal government's responsibilities are clarified, it will be easier for federal lawmakers to determine how they can help meet the nation's infrastructure needs, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Beasley in Washington

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