Republicans need to get over their fear that they’ll pay at the polls if they back gas tax increases at the pump, says former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
Any plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure will require a lot of money to be effective and a gas tax increase is a proven way to raise revenue that even Republicans in the era of President Ronald Reagan easily backed, Lott said.
"There should be a gas tax increase and I don’t know why they are so scared to do it,” Lott said during a recent visit to the Capitol, where he previously served in both the Senate and House leadership.
"We did it for Reagan and not one Republican lost because they voted for a gas tax increase,” said Lott, who served as House Republican whip in 1982. "I was there counting the votes. We would be OK.”
Lawmakers then agreed to more than double the federal gas tax to 9 cents a gallon from 4 cents a gallon after Republicans successfully argued that the 5 cents "user fee” increase would cost the average car owner only about $30 a year—or the cost of a "couple of shock absorbers.”
But Lott said in an interview that politicians over time grew more wary of raising the gas tax. It has held steady at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993—and now has greatly diminished buying power.
Lott, who now is senior counsel at the firm of Squire Patton Boggs, didn’t weigh in on the 25 cent increase that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently proposed to cover an ambitious infrastructure plan. But Lott said all options should be considered—including the public private partnerships the Trump administration is backing, a mileage tax, and more widespread tolls.
He also said the issue shouldn’t be made partisan as was seen when Republicans resisted Democrats’ efforts to get emergency aid to handle the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
"People think iron in the water is in Flint, Michigan,” Lott said. "No, it’s in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s everywhere. Water and sewer systems are literally caving in. They’re 50 to 60 years old. We’ve got to do something.”
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