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Gulf oil spill: a good reason to raise the federal gas tax

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(Read caption) A man pumps gas in Lansing, Mich. Motorists may not realize it, but they've been getting a good deal on the national gas tax. That's not true for the nation's highways and transit.

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Infrastructure: yucky word, favorite topic. I think about a big piece of it – highways and bridges – every time I drive the Washington-Boston corridor, which I know by heart from way back when.

When I heard President Obama say Wednesday that the Gulf oil spill shows how important it is to wean ourselves from fossil fuels and pass climate-change/energy legislation, I found myself wishing he would make the same argument for raising the national gas tax.

The federal gasoline tax funds the solvency-challenged Highway Trust Fund, which was started in 1956 to build the Interstate system. It’s used for roads and transit but it’s running on fumes because the 18.4 cents per gallon tax hasn’t been raised since 1993.

What does this have to do with the Gulf oil spill? Well, Mr. Obama has been strongly opposed to raising the gas tax. It’s a political nonstarter in a weak economy. But a high enough fuel tax could also discourage fuel consumption – and help with the oil-weaning process.

It took political courage for the president to come out so strongly for another big piece of legislation like climate change, whose one Republican backer in the Senate has since dropped away. He should find that same courage on the fuel tax.

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