Financing the Nation’s Infrastructure in Our Age of Cutbacks

» The United States suffers from a deficit of long-term thinking about transportation funding.

The message from the White House on transportation financing over the past few weeks was ambiguous at best. President Obama, frustrated by Florida Governor Rick Scott’s rejection of federal aid for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, suggested that it would be foolish for states to abandon investment in infrastructure, arguing that these projects are essential to the advancement of the American economy in the 21st Century. In a year filled with discussion about how to reduce the federal deficit, the Administration has been a major supporter of increasing funding for new transportation projects that it hopes will help the U.S. “win the future” — starting with a proposed $53 billion for high-speed rail over the next six years.

At the same time, the White House and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood have been remarkably opaque in describing their conception of how the federal government will pay for these projects. Even as the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget suggested that transportation programs would be funded without burying the country deeper into debt, Mr. LaHood was unable to describe for skeptical senators how exactly that could be done considering the current and future expected limitations of the federal fuel tax, which has been set at a low XXX¢ per gallon since 1993.