Clinton Proposes Tolls on Interstates: Highway Bill Would Let States Decide
Strobel, Warren P., Larson, Ruth, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
President Clinton yesterday unveiled a six-year, $175 billion transportation bill that would reverse a 40-year-old policy to allow states to charge tolls on federal interstate highways.
The proposal elicited protests at once from highway-user groups, which said it amounted to double taxation because the highways are built and maintained with taxpayer funds.
Administration officials defended the change as relatively minor and said it is not clear that many states would take advantage of it.
The president did not mention the proposal at a morning White House event where he sketched the outlines of a large transportation package.
Later, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater discussed the toll proposal, calling it a "modest change" in policy. "We do not believe a lot of states will take advantage of it, but clearly they should have the opportunity," he said.
The tolls on highways and bridges in the 21st century would increase spending on transportation by 11 percent, including more money for safety, environmental protection and efforts to help former welfare recipients get to work.
The bill "does the old-fashioned work of investing in America's infrastructure in a very important way, but it also ties those investments to the challenges we face today and tomorrow," Mr. Clinton said.
States have generally been forbidden to charge tolls on federal roads under the 1956 legislation that created the interstate highway system. Tolls have been allowed only to pay for building new sections of the system.
Highway groups are gearing up to quash the idea.
"This was supposed to be a highway proposal, but this is a highway-robbery proposal," said William D. Fay, the president of the American Highway Users Alliance, a Washington lobbying group.
Bill Jackman, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association, said: "They are asking motorists to pay twice. This is double taxation, pure and simple."
He argued that motorists pay to maintain and improve federal highways each time they fill up at the gas pump, because the highway trust fund gets more than 14 cents per gallon in federal taxes.
"The system was set up to be self-sustaining, and it has been since 1956," Mr. Jackman said. "Billions of dollars have been paid into the trust fund."
He said AAA will lobby Congress to eliminate the toll provision. He recalled that a similar provision was defeated in the Senate two years ago, so he was surprised to see it resurface. …