House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., has been given the go-ahead by leadership to include $15 billion more for transportation programs in his multi-year bill, if he can find the revenue, sources said.
“The chairman has the commitment of House leadership to seek additional revenues for a long-term reauthorization, and we will look at potential options, although raising the gas tax continues to be off the table,” a spokesman said. He would not confirm the $15 billion figure.
Without the option of a gasoline tax hike, there is no obvious place for Mica to find the additional money. However, sources are pointing to a speech House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made Sept. 15. Boehner said he is not opposed to more infrastructure spending, but added, “Let’s link it to an expansion of American-made energy production.”
That suggests a strategy of confronting Democrats with more infrastructure spending only if they agree to open more of the country to oil exploration.
Larry Ehl, who writes the blog Transportation Issues, said: “I’m not terribly optimistic they’ll find the extra $15 billion, in a way that can be supported by Senate Democrats and the White House, and the Tea Party folks.”
Until now, Mica has limited spending in his multi-year bill to the $35 billion yearly Highway Trust Fund income, a 30% drop from current spending. Sen.Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is proposing $55 billion per year. Putting an extra $15 billion per year into the Mica plan would avoid a cut, but still come in less than Boxer proposed.