Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation, May 19) Speaking at a community meeting in New York City's Chinatown, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday that tolls ought to be considered as an option to pay for the federal transportation bill. That bill has been stalled in a congress laden with (other) legislative priorities and a total non-desire to pursue any of the unpleasant options for paying for the $600 billion bill (gas taxes, vehicle miles traveled taxes, oil taxes, stock taxes, etc.)
In a discussion about what locals would like to see in the bill, LaHood became animated as he said "these are all good ideas." And then he added "The only problem we have in Washington, believe it or not, is finding the $600 billion to pay for it. " Pressed on sources of funding OTHER than a gas tax, Lahood said: "Another way is -don't run me out, okay? Tolling. Some places in the country are talking about using tolls. You can raise a lot of money by tolling." The crowd, (a New York City crowd, after all), applauded.
"Oh good! You like that idea," LaHood said.
In early 2009, LaHood told the Associated Press that one funding mechanism could be taxing people based in the number of miles they drive.
"We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled," the former Illinnois lawmaker told the Associated Press in February 2009. The idea was immediately walked back by White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs. "It is not and will not be the policy of the Obama Administration, " Gibbs told reporters.
Update: LaHood's spokeswoman, Jill Zuckman clarifies in an email: "He's not for tolling for existing roads already paid for by tax dollars. He's open to tolling to add capacity, like a new lane, or a new road."
Here's the audio:
And a transcript:
LaHood: There is going to be a transportation bill. The only problem we have in Washington believe it or not is finding $600 billion to pay for it. There's no shortage of ideas. All of the ideas that you've all expressed here are all great ideas and there are ideas that come to us from Members of Congress, from Senators , from our own people -- but the Highway Trust Fund which has funded the transportation bill traditionally is deficient because people are driving less and driving more fuel efficient cars. If we could find $600 billion Congress, could pass a bill a bill tomorrow. Everybody knows what's needed
Woman: (inaudible question about when bill will be reauthorized)
LaHood: No I don't know, because we need to find $600 billion. As soon as we have that I'll call you, i'll give you the date when it will be passed. I'd love to have it give me your cell number and your email -- you'll be first on my list to call.
Woman: Do you have any ideas for alternative sources of that funding?
LaHood: We've talked about an infrastructure fund which the president included in his budget next year, $4 billion to do to big significant projects. We've never had an infrastructure fund and so way. I want to mention a bad word around here. Another way is -don't run me out, okay? Tolling. Some places in the country are talking about using tolls you can raise a lot of money by tolling
LaHood: Oh Good you like that idea! Lookit -- in case you haven't heard there's new technology out here it's called a pass deal. In illinois we call it I-pass. You put a little thing on your windshield you go right through ! You don't have to stop! No toll!