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George W. Bush

Bush Transpo Secretary’s Biggest Disappointment: Bush

2:31 PM EDT on June 2, 2009

DC Velocity magazine has just released a lengthy interview with Norman Mineta, the Bush-era transportation secretary and former Democratic member of Congress.

min0_011.jpgFormer U.S. DOT chief Mineta (r.), with his biggest disappointment. (Photo: Academy of Achievement)

In the interview, Mineta -- who now works on infrastructure at the consulting firm Hill & Knowlton -- spoke openly about the transportation funding crisis and called for the Obama administration to reconsider its opposition to a VMT tax:

I think the "Vehicle Miles Traveled" program ought to be seriouslyconsidered. Even if you go to a VMT, you still have some form of tax.But the beauty of the VMT approach is that all you look at is how manymiles you travel on the highway. It captures activity regardless ofenergy source.

Mineta also showed refreshing candor in describing his biggest disappointment during five years at the Bush White House: the former president's staunch refusal to reform the gas tax. Mineta explained that he planned in 2001 to pay for a $330 billion federal transportation bill increase gas taxes by 2 cents per gallon in the first, third and fifth years of the six-year legislation. But here's what happened, per Mineta:

We went to the Oval Office, and after we went through the entirepresentation, President Bush takes a marker, circles the gas taxincreases, and says, "Norm, I don't want any of those tax increases.Get those out."

So Mineta pared his proposal back, suggesting merely to index the gas tax to inflation -- which has already worked for six state governments and could soon become law in Bush's home state of Texas. But alas, Bush couldn't let go of his fondness for running deficits in the name of "fiscal conservatism":

We returned to the Oval Office, went through the presentation, andafterward President Bush said, "Norm, that's a tax increase. Get thatout." So I then took all the unobligated surplus, left $1 billion inthe highway trust fund, and used the balance to build a $267 billionsurface transportation program that Congress finally passed in 2005.Not long after, the administration asked for an $8 billion infusion ofgeneral funds into the highway trust fund so it wouldn't be running adeficit by 2007.

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