LaHood: Raise gas tax by 10 cents per gallon

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"What happens when gasoline standards, CAFE standards, go to 54.5 miles per gallon,” LaHood continued. “We're going to have less gas receipts."

LaHood generally shied away from proposing specific fixes to the shortfall in road and transit funding during his tenure as transportation secretary, deferring to President Obama and Congress to identify specific money pools.

The gas tax traditionally brings in $35 billion per year, but the most recent transportation bill spent $54 billion annually, which transportation advocates say is just enough to scratch to maintain the current system.

LaHood said the gas tax shortfall hamstrung lawmakers as they crafted the 2012 transportation bill, which is known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act.

“You [have] to have a big pot of money,” he said. “We don't have it now. The reason Congress passed a two-year bill, MAP-21, was because they could only find $109 billion. We need a 5 or 600 billion dollar transportation program. That will just scratch the surface."

The current Transportation bill is scheduled to expire in September 2014. Lawmakers have begun holding hearings about possible funding sources for a new round of road and transit funding, but the discussions were interrupted by the recently completed government shutdown.

LaHood said the conversations would have to get revved up again quickly.

"America has always been No. 1 in transportation,” he said. “We are not No. 1 today. We are way down the list. China is going to build 85 airports this year. They are building roads, and bridges, and high-speed rail. Why? To attract businesses that create jobs.

"All of these forms of transportation become job creators for the people that build them, job creators for the economic corridors that are created, and it enhances the community," LaHood said.