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12/8/2009
Administration to Hike Driving Taxes for Non-Road Spending
US Transportation Secretary talks about a number of motorist tax hike options to pay for massive new spending on non-road projects.

Ray LaHood in Dallas, 12/1
As US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood touts boosted spending of motorist money on non-road projects, the administration is supporting calls for higher taxes on drivers. Last Wednesday, LaHood announced he would spend $280 million in federal transportation money, raised primarily from taxes and other user fees paid by motorists, on streetcars. The transportation secretary announced the move as part of the Obama Administration's "Livability Initiative."

"This represents a significant effort to promote livable communities, improve the quality of life for more Americans and create more transportation choices that serve the needs of individual communities," LaHood said in a statement. "We can do a lot of good with this money."

The previous day, LaHood had announced more big spending in Dallas. A total of $16.7 million in federal taxpayer funds will help build a park on top of a freeway, and LaHood also indicated a favorable reception for the city's application for $48 million in federal tax dollars to expand light rail. LaHood also praised the Trinity River toll road project. The transportation secretary is a big supporter of tolling, as he is of the belief that drivers should pay for his initiatives. LaHood explained in a speech to the North Texas Transportation Summit the variety of tax increase options facing Congress.

"If we get into a new authorization bill, the debate will be, how do we fund all the things we want to do," LaHood explained. "We talk about more tolling, in some places in the country where they've put HOT lanes on the road, they've done it by using tolls. You can raise a lot of money with tolling. Another means of funding could be an infrastructure bank where you sell bonds and set aside money, usually for big projects, multi-billion dollar projects. Another way is the VMT, Vehicle miles traveled, where you actually measure how many miles people travel and then they pay a fee on that. The idea of indexing the taxes that are collected at the gas pump is something that I believe Congress will debate... that is one way to keep up with the decline in driving and more fuel efficient cars."

Yesterday the Transportation Department announced it would pour $5.3 million in taxpayer funds to create a 511 hotline in Dallas so that those seeking information on travel conditions could dial 511 on their cell phones instead of listening to the radio for updates. The new system would also provide information on the city's light rail program.



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