Charging for the Use of Our Roads?

Ah, Washington. This is a lovely town, but it has its quirks. When, for example, taxes are the topic. Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana had a funny saying about the national aversion to the sticky issue of generating revenue: "Don't tax me, don't tax thee, tax that man behind the tree."

This is why it was a bit of a surprise when new Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood brought up the idea of charging drivers based on mileage driven in order to generate revenue for transportation infrastructure: "What I see this administration doing is this - thinking outside the box on how we fund our infrastructure in America..."

It was less of a surprise when the Administration's Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed the idea in his press briefing. What was a bit jarring was how quickly, and how thoroughly, he dismissed it: "it is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration."

And in Congressional Quarterly the key Congressman charged with writing transportation policy -- Congressman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota -- pushed back, saying "I've got news for you...transportation policy isn't going to be written in the press room of the White House."


When the dust settles from this scuffle, this policy should receive serious consideration, because as Rob Puentes of the Brookings Institution and I write in an piece, while there are valid concerns about program design, the baby shouldn't be thrown out with the bath water. It deserves a look as part of the federal transportation policy debate.