Trump should raise the federal gas tax to help pay for infrastructure fixes, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says

Key Points
  • President Trump should seize on post-midterm enthusiasm for an infrastructure deal, Ray LaHood, a Republican who served under Obama, tells CNBC.
  • LaHood calls on the president to get the GOP-controlled Senate to support ways to boost revenue to pay for it.
  • Democrats, who won control of the House in Tuesday's election, are ready to pass a "pretty big, bold bill," LaHood says.
Former Transportation secretary on infrastructure policy hopes
Former Transportation secretary on infrastructure policy hopes

President Donald Trump should seize on the post-midterm enthusiasm for a bipartisan infrastructure deal by supporting ways to boost revenue to pay for fixing America's antiquated roads, bridges and airports, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told CNBC on Thursday.

Trump should "persuade Republicans in the Senate that they're going to have to pass some kind of revenue-raiser," said LaHood, a Republican former congressman who served under Democratic President Barack Obama.

While Democrats won control of the House in Tuesday's voting, Republicans added to their majority in the Senate, which would need to sign on to any plans that come out of the House. However, the GOP is still short of the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster in the Senate and would need Democratic support to pass most legislation.

President Donald Trump speaks at a Make America Great Again rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on Nov. 5, 2018. 
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

In a postelection news conference Wednesday, the president said he and Democrats "have a lot of things in common on infrastructure." Ever since launching his White House bid, the real estate billionaire had lambasted what he's categorized as "horrible infrastructure problems" throughout the United States.

Newly energized Democrats are ready to pass a "pretty big, bold bill" and help pay for it by raising the federal gasoline tax for the first time in 25 years, LaHood said. The federal gas tax has been 18.4 cents, 24.4 cents for diesel, since it was last raised in 1993.

"If you raise the gas tax 10 cents a gallon, you get billions of dollars. That's a very, very good start," said LaHood, currently co-chairman of the Building America's Future coalition, which pushes for a new era in infrastructure investment. "It sends a message to the states that the federal government is serious about getting back into being a good partner."

"We need to start somewhere," he added. "You know America is one big pothole."

Back in February, there were reports that Trump was signaling a willingness to consider a federal gas tax hike to bolster the cash-strapped Highway Trust Fund. The president's possible flexibility on the matter came shortly after the White House unveiled its long-promised infrastructure plan, which eventually went nowhere.

The administration at the time proposed a $1.5 trillion plan to fix the nation's aging infrastructure by putting up $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years. The proposal capped federal funding at 20 percent for any given project, leaving cities and states responsible for raising the rest.

"That's not going to work," LaHood said. "Why not replenish the Highway Trust Fund? Raise the gas tax, and go back to back to the formula of 80-20 because the states have no money."