U.S. Senator George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, issued the following statement today about President Obama's transportation proposal announced Monday. The senator sent the president a letter on Aug. 31 urging him to support a multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bill, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and be an immediate stimulus to the economy. A copy of the letter is attached.
"I was pleased to receive a call Monday from President Obama acknowledging the letter I sent him last week, which urged him to support a multi-year reauthorization of the surface transportation bill. Passage of this legislation would rebuild our nation's infrastructure and put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work.
"The unemployment rate in construction is a staggering 20 percent -- higher than any other industry and nearly two times the national unemployment rate. According to the state departments of transportation, highway projects worth more than $47 billion are ready to go. That is why I have worked for more than a year to get a multi-year highway bill passed, and I am so pleased the president shares my understanding of our need for infrastructure investment to put people back to work.
"On our call, I urged President Obama to be transparent in how he plans to pay for this program. Americans want us to be straightforward with them -- they know that the cost of higher taxes on oil and gas companies will simply be passed down to consumers through rate increases. The president's credibility is on the line here.
"The fact is, we should be paying for the transportation bill by increasing the gas tax, which has not risen since 1993. The gas tax is a user fee. As President Ronald Reagan said in 1982, when the nation was facing record unemployment above 10 percent, "Good tax policy decrees that, wherever possible, a fee for a service should be assessed against those who directly benefit from that service.'
"Reagan knew America was in dire straits and fought hard for a gas tax increase once he realized the effect it would have on the economy. It was a tough pill for his colleagues to swallow. But, in the end, Congress passed the much-needed Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, which provided a 5-cent gas tax increase and created hundreds of thousands of jobs. History speaks for itself.
"If President Obama were to honestly consider the gas tax like Reagan did, he would find support where he least expects it. Today, groups that don't traditionally back tax increases -- among them the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Trucking Association -- have come out in support of a gas tax increase because of this reauthorization bill's ability to put Americans back to work.
"President Obama said he wants to work with us to get this done, and I look forward to sitting down together and working transparently on a bipartisan basis."