INCREASING the federal gasoline tax, the primary funding source for repairing America's roads and bridges, would pay for badly needed infrastructure projects and create thousands of jobs. Ohio Sen. George Voinovich is right to call for a higher gas tax as part of a multi-year transportation bill that is stalled in Congress because of the proposed increase.
That said, the veteran lawmaker, who is retiring this year, surely understands that the prospect of passing any tax increase in an election year is dim. Still, a Republican who supports higher taxes is worth noting.
It's unfortunate that Congress would rather pass emergency measures to replenish the depleted federal highway trust fund, which fixes roads and aids public transportation systems, than increase the gas tax to cover chronic shortfalls. As Senator Voinovich points out, the 18.4-cent federal tax on a gallon of gas has not increased since 1993.
Instead of borrowing more money and adding to the deficit, Senator Voinovich argues, a tax increase could pay for new and improved roads and bridges now. But the Obama Administration, like its predecessor, has pledged not to seek an increase in the gasoline tax, at least while the recession persists.
"How do you say to people you're going to raise their gasoline taxes when 14 percent of the people in Michigan are out of work?" U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a recent exchange with Mr. Voinovich.
The senator responded: "What you tell them is: 'I'm sorry, folks, we're not going to be able to do the job that needs to be done in our country.'•"
Congress and the White House can continue to put off hard decisions about highway funding, at least until after this year's elections, by backing short extensions of the transportation funding bill that expired last year.
If they do that, as Mr. Voinovich says, they should be honest with Americans about delaying needed repairs on highways, bridges, and tunnels for a couple of years - or longer.