Ray LaHood defends push for gas tax hike

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," January 13, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Forget Chris Christie's bridge over troubled water.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is worried about, well, all the bridges that risk falling into the water if they're not fixed now, because he says our infrastructure is indeed crumbling now. And Mr. LaHood argues there's only way to repair the damage -- hike gas taxes right now.

Secretary, good to have you.


CAVUTO: I understand, sir. I know it's been more than 20 years since we last even touched the gas tax.

But we do have a variety of other moneys committed to this sort of thing, including tolls and fees and excise taxes and -- and individual state taxes on gasoline, and all of that, where is that money going?

LAHOOD: Well, it's going to add new lanes to toll roads and to keep toll roads in a state of good repair.

But, by September 30, by the end of this fiscal year, Neil, the Highway Trust Fund will be out of money. And if Congress doesn't step up and either increase the gas tax, they will have to take the money out of the general fund. And the point is that the gas tax has not been raised since '93.

If it had been indexed in '93, we wouldn't be talking about this. My idea is, let's raise the gas tax.


CAVUTO: Well, how do you know? But, sir, doesn't that -- I'm sorry.

But doesn't that assume that all the moneys appropriated for this sort of thing have been put in a lockbox and just gone to this sort of thing? Because a lot of times, that's not the case.

LAHOOD: The Highway Trust Fund is diminished, Neil, because people are driving less, driving more fuel-efficient cars, and the gas tax hasn't been raised.

And if we're going to get back to being number one in infrastructure, we need the resources to do it. We built the interstate with the Highway Trust Fund. We built the Hoover Dam. We built the Golden Gate Bridge.

We're number 16 right now in terms of infrastructure. We used to be number one.


CAVUTO: When you say in terms of infrastructure, does that include the $85 billion that Uncle Sam and states are collecting with fuel taxes, the $12 billion in tolls, the $10 billion in property tax assessments earmarked for this, the $14.5 billion in local and state answer ancillary fees?

LAHOOD: Those -- those -- look it...

CAVUTO: The $62 billion in combined oil taxes, much of that earmarked for this sort of thing?

I just want to know -- you might be right. There's definitely some infrastructure problem going on here, because we're not fixing this stuff, but methinks that someone is absconding with a lot of that money.

LAHOOD: Well, I -- I think that's a little ridiculous to say that.

Taxes that are collected at the local and state level go for local and state roads. Taxes that are collected for tolls go to maintain the toll roads.


CAVUTO: So, what about stimulus when -- in 2009, where did a lot of that...


CAVUTO: ... was earmarked for this sort of thing. Where did that go?

LAHOOD: Yes, $48 billion. I'm very proud, Neil, that while I was at DOT, we spent $48 billion. We put 65,000 people to work doing 15,000 projects.

You never heard any bad stories about the money being misspent. America is one big pothole, Neil. If we don't come up with the money, we're in no way, shape or form going to have the money to fix up the potholes.

CAVUTO: But how do you -- how so sure are you that that money is going to be -- but how sure are you that that money is going to be spent?

I heard of Social Security lockboxes. I have heard a lot of the lockboxes. And I have had a devil of a time seeing this money accounted for collectively, because it dwarfs, you know, anything imaginable. I'm wondering, well, wait a minute, before I commit more money or you ask more money from us, can't we account for the money that's been spent and where it's going?

LAHOOD: Well, we do account for it. It's going to carry out the last transportation bill that was passed.

You just listed a whole number of moneys that are being collected. That money is going into state and local roads. The toll money is going to fix up the toll roads.

CAVUTO: State and local roads are a mess. They are a mess.

LAHOOD: But -- but we are one big pothole, Neil. All you have to do is get in your car today and drive around and you got...

CAVUTO: There's no denying the severity of the problem. I'm with you there, Secretary. I don't want to..

LAHOOD: We need the money, Neil. We need...

CAVUTO: ... compound the problem by spending money that has supposedly been committed.

LAHOOD: We need -- the Highway Trust Fund is diminished.

CAVUTO: I know, because someone is running off with the money.

LAHOOD: By September, we will be out of money.


LAHOOD: We need people to step up, provide some leadership, and come up with the money. That's what we have always done in America.


CAVUTO: All right, we also account for the moneys we spend in America. But we will see, Secretary.

LAHOOD: It's -- it's being accounted for, Neil.

CAVUTO: I wish you were right. Well, we will see. Secretary, thank you.

LAHOOD: Well, I am right.


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