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Pump up the federal gas tax

Gas prices have fallen steeply, giving Obama room to raise the tax and help pay for roads.

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Last week, Barack Obama told America's needy governors a hard truth: The federal government can't just print more money to solve every problem. At some point, he said, Washington must make some hard fiscal choices. Yet now is the time for one such choice – a higher federal gas tax.

Gasoline prices have fallen by more than half since July, when Americans were spending $4-plus for a gallon of regular. There's room for an increase in the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax.

At the same time, Mr. Obama plans to stimulate the economy with the biggest investment in infrastructure since the building of the National Highway System in the 1950s. The federal gas tax – which funds much highway, bridge, and mass transit construction and maintenance – has gone unchanged since 1993 and is underfunded.

But when "Meet The Press" host Tom Brokaw asked Obama on Sunday about bumping up gas prices, the president-elect waved off the idea. He said that, "putting additional burdens on American families right now" is a mistake.

Let's back up a minute. Obama's broad goal of investing in infrastructure makes sense. Last year's collapse of the Minneapolis bridge serves as a vivid reminder of the country's crumbling surface-transport network – a system that needs at least $225 billion in annual spending over the next five decades, according to a bipartisan commission headed by the US transportation secretary. The nation is spending less than 40 percent of that amount.

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