Bush Transpo Secretary’s Biggest Disappointment: Bush

DC Velocity magazine has just released a lengthy interview with Norman Mineta, the Bush-era transportation secretary and former Bay Area Democratic member of Congress.

min0_011.jpgFormer U.S. DOT chief Mineta (r.), with his biggest disappointment. (Photo: Academy of Achievement)

In the interview, Mineta -- who now works on infrastructure at the consulting firm Hill & Knowlton -- spoke openly about the transportation funding crisis and called for the Obama administration to reconsider its opposition to a VMT tax:

I think the "Vehicle Miles Traveled" program ought to be seriously considered. Even if you go to a VMT, you still have some form of tax. But the beauty of the VMT approach is that all you look at is how many miles you travel on the highway. It captures activity regardless of energy source.

Mineta also showed refreshing candor in describing his biggest disappointment during five years at the Bush White House: the former president's staunch refusal to reform the gas tax. Mineta explained that he planned in 2001 to pay for a $330 billion federal transportation bill increase gas taxes by 2 cents per gallon in the first, third and fifth years of the six-year legislation. But here's what happened, per Mineta:

We went to the Oval Office, and after we went through the entire presentation, President Bush takes a marker, circles the gas tax increases, and says, "Norm, I don't want any of those tax increases. Get those out."

So Mineta pared his proposal back, suggesting merely to index the gas tax to inflation -- which has already worked for six state governments and could soon become law in Bush's home state of Texas. But alas, Bush couldn't let go of his fondness for running deficits in the name of "fiscal conservatism":

We returned to the Oval Office, went through the presentation, and afterward President Bush said, "Norm, that's a tax increase. Get that out." So I then took all the unobligated surplus, left $1 billion in the highway trust fund, and used the balance to build a $267 billion surface transportation program that Congress finally passed in 2005. Not long after, the administration asked for an $8 billion infusion of general funds into the highway trust fund so it wouldn't be running a deficit by 2007.