Trump said to signal support for gas tax hike

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — President Donald Trump signaled Wednesday that he is willing to support a 25-cent increase in the federal gas tax to help pay for the nation’s infrastructure projects, according to a Democratic senator who attended a White House meeting on infrastructure issues.

Trump has talked repeatedly about spending $1 trillion on infrastructure projects in the U.S., but he has previously only committed $200 million of federal money for the proposed bill. White House officials have said the money could be used to “generate” the additional $800 million his plans calls for in private, state and local spending, although many have expressed skepticism about the viability of the plan to get private companies to pay for public roads.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who was one of 12 lawmakers who attended the meeting with Trump at the White House on Wednesday, said the president indicated he would be willing to support a 25-cent gas tax hike to help pay for more infrastructure projects.

“To my surprise, President Trump, today in our meeting, offered his support for raising the gas and diesel tax by 25 cents a gallon and dedicating that money to improve our roads, highways and bridges,” Carper, who has introduced legislation to increase the U.S. gas tax on multiple occasions, said in a statement.

The federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, has been the traditional source for U.S. transportation funding since the 1930s. The federal government usually spends about $50 billion per year on roads, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion. The gas tax has not been raised since 1993, and there has been little appetite in Washington for taking a vote to do so. Republicans in particular are typically vocally opposed to tax increases during budget discussions.

Congress has turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the funding gap, most recently transferring $70 billion to help cover five years worth of transportation spending that will run out in 2020.

At the core of Trump’s original plan is the assumption that private companies would enter into “public-private” partnerships with local and state governments. States would compete for grants that would be funded by the federal seed money and awarded based on their ability to attract private investment to cover the remainder of the cost.

Critics have said Trump’s privatization of public assets could lead to increased use of tolls and other mechanisms that will allow private companies to generate profits in exchange for financing projects. They cite examples of companies that have entered into agreements with state and local governments and later gone bankrupt or charged higher than expected tolls for the use of roads and bridges.

Trump said Wednesday his infrastructure plan is the “biggest and boldest infrastructure initiative.” He touted $50 billion would be spent on rural infrastructure initiatives under his original plan.

“Rural communities have not been treated fairly,” Trump said.

Trump added that his plan gives “more power” to states by allowing them to “choose the projects” that will be eligible for federal funds.

“We want the states to be very much involved in the choice of where this money goes,” he said.

The president added: “After spending trillions of dollars overseas rebuilding other countries it is time to rebuild our own country and to take care of our citizens.”

The White House made no mention of Trump’s support of a gas tax hike in the readout of the infrastructure meeting that was released Wednesday afternoon. The report from the White House said only that “the group discussed the president’s infrastructure principles that were rolled out earlier this week, including reforming the infrastructure project permitting process, allowing decisions to stay at the state and local level, and investing in our workforce development.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing