WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Bush said Thursday he doesn’t support increasing gasoline taxes to pay for bridge repairs, calling on Congress to instead change its priorities on spending.
Several members of the House Transportation Committee are calling for the tax hike in the wake of the deadly 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis last week. Congressman James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, Wednesday said he would introduce legislation for bridge repair funding, as well as increased inspections. He says a 5-cent increase in the gas tax would pay for the three-year proposed program, generating $8.5 billion a year.
Citing 74,000 bridges rated by the federal government as “structurally deficient,” Oberstar told reporters, “We cannot wait for another tragedy. We must, and we will, act decisively."
But at Thursday’s White House news conference, President Bush said, “It's an interesting question, about how Congress spends and prioritizes highway money. My suggestion would be that they revisit the process by which they spend gasoline money in the first place.”
Mr. Bush criticized the way Congress approves projects, saying, “From my perspective, the way it seems to have worked is that each member on that committee gets to set his or her own priority first, and then what's ever left over is spent to a funding formula. That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money. So before we raise taxes which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities.”
“If bridges are a priority,” said Mr. Bush, then “let's make sure we set that priority first and foremost, before we raise taxes. “
A new CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll out Thursday shows while 52 percent of respondents are worried another bridge may collapse somewhere around the county, 65% percent would oppose an increase in the gas tax.
- CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk