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July 27, 2010 4:00 PM, EDT

LaHood Rules Out Fuel Tax Increase

WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rejected raising fuel taxes to pay for highway improvements and said that, despite pessimism about the prospects for a long-term highway bill, the administration was focused on completing a bill this year.

LaHood, speaking at an American Road & Transportation Builders Association public-private partnerships conference Friday, explicitly ruled out raising fuel taxes or a vehicle miles traveled fee as a way to pay for a new federal highway program.

LaHood said there was “no dispute in Washington ... about what needs to be done” in a new transportation bill, but “there’s only one problem: trying to find $500 billion; that’s what it takes to do all the things that we want to do.”

However, he repeatedly ruled out an increase in the fuel tax, saying finally that “raising the gas tax is not an option.”

He also told the group that there was no support for a vehicle miles traveled fee.

LaHood said that approaches such as public-private partnerships, an infrastructure fund and tolling could be used to make up the needed revenue for a bill.

Transportation leaders in recent weeks have begun to speculate that the bill may languish past the end of the year when the most recent extension expires.

LaHood dismissed those concerns and said the Department of Transportation was still focused on wrapping up the bill before the end of the year.

“We’re a long way away from that,” he said at the July 23 conference. “We’re not even in August yet — we’re in July — and this extension goes through December, and so we’ll just see how things play out.”