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2009 Transportation Bill

Introducing the Samuelson Gas Tax Increase: A Penny Every Month

Democratic lawmakers are discussing the possibility of a one-year stopgap transportation bill but have yet to reach consensus on how to pay for the measure, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said today.

carper.jpgSen. Tom Carper (D-DE) (Photo: Politics Daily)

Carper, speaking at a National Journal policy conference, said the prospects for short-term transport legislation still depend on finding a workable funding source. He mentioned an idea first floated last year by economist and Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson: increase the fuel tax by one penny every month.

Such a gradual increase, Samuelson wrote, would send a price signal in favor of fuel efficiency. Carper acknowledged that his colleagues didn't immediately warm to Samuelson's revenue-raising idea, but he also hinted that another economic stimulus measure paid for by deficit spending could be a non-starter in the Senate.

"Are we going to have another stimulus bill? I sure hope not, because it means we're in the tank again," Carper said, pointing to recent signs of an economic turnaround.

Carper, the lead sponsor of a proposal to give clean transportation 10 percent of money generated by a future climate change bill, also addressed rising pessimism about Congress' ability to pass carbon emissions limits before next year's midterm elections.

Passing a health care reform bill that's fully paid for, Carper said, would go a long way towards bolstering the prospects for climate legislation by demonstrating lawmakers' commitment to fiscal rectitude.

Carper's remarks were followed by a panel discussion that featured Polly Trottenberg, assistant U.S. transportation secretary for policy, and James Corless, director of Transportation for America.

Both Trottenberg and Corless emphasized the importance of messaging in encouraging public acceptance of infrastructure policy reforms. Asked about decreasing the nation's total vehicle miles traveled by telling Americans to "drive less," Corless re-framed the question as one of providing more transport options.

"If we want [to ask] people to drive less, that's not going to work ... [let's] provide people with more choice," he said.

Trottenberg sounded a similar note: "I don't like the question, 'how do we get people to drive less.' Before we impose anything on people that they don't like, let's meet the demand that's out there" for access to transit, biking, walking, and other cleaner forms of transport, she said.

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