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President Obama wants to fund trains and self-driving cars with a new oil tax

President Obama wants to fund trains and self-driving cars with a new oil tax


An awesome idea that's already DOA

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President Barack Obama has refreshingly made the future of transportation a hallmark of his final year in office. Today, he announced his plan to take those efforts a step further by including $300 billion worth of investments in mass transit, autonomous vehicles, clean energy, and high-speed rail in his soon-to-be-released budget. And to pay for it, he is calling for a $10-per-barrel tax on oil, a proposal that has effectively zero chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress.

It's a bummer that the president's plan is dead on arrival, because taxing oil at $10-a-barrel would help make up for the fact that neither Congress nor Obama insisted on paying for the recently passed five-year, $305 billion infrastructure spending bill by increasing the gas tax. As I wrote last December:

As many expected, Congress and the president failed to increase the gas tax, which provides most of the money for the highway bill and hasn't changed since the mid-'90s. A dollar in 1993 is worth only 60 cents today. If the gas tax had kept up with inflation, it would be 30 cents a gallon today and pull in nearly twice the amount of revenue, or $68 billion rather than $34 billion. In other words, they are leaving billions and billions on the table by opting for the politically expedient move of leaving the gas tax untouched.

Still, it's a bold plan, and one that is totally in line with Obama's aggressive stance on fuel efficiency, greenhouse gases, and climate change. It also matches up with his administration's growing interest in future modes of transportation. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx recently unveiled a 10-year, $4 billion plan to incentivize the development of self-driving cars. And this month, Foxx showed up at Elon Musk's Hyperloop design contest at Texas A&M University, where he called the levitating, tube-based transportation system a possible "moonshot."
The president's plan would dedicate $20 billion toward "subways, buses, light rail, freight rail modernization projects, and a major expansion of the high-speed rail," Politico says. Another $10 billion would be doled out to the states to encourage smarter infrastructure projects, especially those that decrease carbon emissions. And $2 billion would be put toward clean transportation R&D, like self-driving cars, electric vehicles, and greener airplanes.

Obama tried to sweeten the chances of his oil-barrel tax proposal by phasing it in over five years and adding incentives for low-income families and Northeastern households to move away from heating oil. But the idea of a GOP-controlled Congress approving a plan — any plan really — by Obama to raise taxes is pretty much unfathomable.