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A Tallahassee taboo, talk of gas tax hike silenced by Scott

Florida's transportation system operates at a deficit with coffers so barren it will borrow to pay for almost all of its $9.1 billion in road and bridge obligations over the next year.

Making matters worse is that Florida could lose about $2 billion next year if a key federal transportation funding program isn't extended this year. Even if it is renewed, the program's long term prospects look bleak.

One possible remedy? Hiking the federal gas tax for the first time in 22 years to send additional money to the states, a long-dormant idea that has shown faint signs of life as gas prices have dropped to record lows.

Increasing the tax from its current 18.4 cents a gallon would raise billions more for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is set to go broke on June 1.

"Our infrastructure's on life support," Ray Lahood, the former Republican U.S. transportation secretary in President Obama's first term, said in November. "It's falling apart because we haven't made the investments. We haven't got the money."

But talking taxes is the conversation no one wants to have. Not in Washington, D.C., where anti-tax sentiments prevail. And definitely not in Florida, where a Republican-controlled legislative and executive branch dismiss the idea.

"I strongly urge Congress not to raise the federal gas tax or any tax and instead come up with innovative solutions to fund priorities as we have done in Florida," Gov. Rick Scott said in January as he urged the nation to follow Florida's lead in financing a "world class" system while cutting taxes.

Left unmentioned in Scott's statement is that his state relies heavily on a federal trust fund that is nearly insolvent.

More here.

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