Wednesday Q+A With Ray LaHood

The former Transportation secretary talks infrastructure, the gas tax, and Metro.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
Photo: Chet Susslin
Jason Plautz
Add to Briefcase
Jason Plautz
May 23, 2017, 8 p.m.

After serving sev­en terms in the House, Ray La­Hood be­came sec­ret­ary of Trans­port­a­tion un­der Pres­id­ent Obama, and helped dole out in­fra­struc­ture money in the stim­u­lus pack­age. With Pres­id­ent Trump and Con­gress now look­ing at in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing, Jason Plautz sat down with La­Hood to dis­cuss trans­port­a­tion fund­ing, fix­ing the Metro, and life as the token Re­pub­lic­an.

The White House and Con­gress are talk­ing about a $1 tril­lion in­fra­struc­ture pack­age. Is that achiev­able?

I would say it’s achiev­able if they look at what I call the five pots of money. I think you need to look at rais­ing the gas tax; I say raise it 10 cents per gal­lon and in­dex it. You can use pub­lic-private part­ner­ships; there’s a lot of money at these dif­fer­ent in­vest­ment groups that are wait­ing for a sig­nal from the ad­min­is­tra­tion and some pro­jects to fund. I say look at the in­fra­struc­ture bank that Pres­id­ent Obama pro­posed like five times that Re­pub­lic­ans would nev­er go along with. I think you give the states the op­por­tun­ity for tolling. And fi­nally, look at vehicle-miles traveled [char­ging drivers for each mile they drive].

Those are all ideas people like to talk about, but none of them has made it very far on the Hill. Is something like rais­ing the gas tax pos­sible?

The gas tax is tough if you listen to Re­pub­lic­ans, but three weeks ago Trump talked about rais­ing it. That’s a good sig­nal to me. Twenty-three states over the last three years have raised their own gas tax be­cause they’re not wait­ing around for Wash­ing­ton to fund their roads and bridges. Let’s have a de­bate about rais­ing the gas tax; take a vote on it. That’s the old-fash­ioned way, the way Con­gress used to do things.

Between health care, tax re­form, and now the Rus­sia in­vest­ig­a­tions, do you think there’s space to have that kind of con­ver­sa­tion?

Every new ad­min­is­tra­tion has one year to get two or three big things done. If they don’t get in­to a de­bate and get some things on in­fra­struc­ture re­solved by the Au­gust re­cess, I say they’ve lost the op­por­tun­ity.

Over the past dec­ade, car own­er­ship has de­clined and some of the tra­di­tion­al ways of think­ing about trans­port­a­tion have changed pretty rad­ic­ally. How does a massive agency like DOT ad­apt?

We did a lot of work with may­ors and gov­ernors who were try­ing to cre­ate com­munit­ies for people who didn’t ne­ces­sar­ily want to own auto­mo­biles. It wasn’t a chal­lenge for us be­cause we built a team of people with a goal of build­ing liv­able and sus­tain­able com­munit­ies. More trans­it, more light rail, more buses, more bike paths, more walk­ing, more bike-share, all kinds of al­tern­at­ive trans­port­a­tion. We were able to do that through TI­GER [the Trans­port­a­tion In­vest­ment Gen­er­at­ing Eco­nom­ic Re­cov­ery grant pro­gram, which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed cut­ting]. I think the chal­lenge now is wheth­er the new ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tin­ue that kind of ef­fort.

And now there are autonom­ous vehicles com­ing on­line. How does DOT keep up?

Every car man­u­fac­turer needs to think about the fact that autonom­ous vehicles are com­ing and if they’re not in the mix, they’re go­ing to get left be­hind. … I’d get all the com­pan­ies that are mak­ing these in­vest­ments around a table and say, “Look­it, we want to work with you on com­ing up with cor­rect reg­u­la­tions and to make sure these vehicles are safe.” I don’t think you can do this in the ab­sence of the auto­makers.

Vir­gin­ia Gov­ernor Terry McAul­iffe ap­poin­ted you to head an in­de­pend­ent pan­el re­view­ing the Wash­ing­ton Metro sys­tem. Why has it been so dif­fi­cult to get the sys­tem right?

I don’t want to blame it all on the money, but that needs to be care­fully eval­u­ated. … Also, when you look at when Metro was formed, things are dif­fer­ent today. You didn’t have the kind of pop­u­la­tion in North­ern Vir­gin­ia when Metro was star­ted. Back then the cen­ter of grav­ity was in Wash­ing­ton. Now they’re fin­ish­ing a Sil­ver Line that goes all the way to Dulles. It’s been dif­fi­cult be­cause things have changed, and Metro hasn’t really kept up with those changes.

You were the only Re­pub­lic­an in Obama’s first Cab­in­et, al­though you’ve since writ­ten that the White House didn’t live up to its prom­ise of bi­par­tis­an co­oper­a­tion. Pres­id­ent Trump doesn’t have any Demo­crats in his Cab­in­et. Should he?

I don’t think Trump ever talked about it the way Obama did. If you look back at Obama’s cam­paign, he talked about get­ting the coun­try to­geth­er and in­clud­ing Re­pub­lic­ans in his ad­min­is­tra­tion. I’ve nev­er heard Trump even ut­ter the idea that Demo­crats would be in­cluded.

Most pres­id­ents do have at least a token mem­ber of the oth­er party, though.

There’s a lot of tra­di­tions that aren’t be­ing fol­lowed in this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

What We're Following See More »
PARTICIPATES IN TOWN HALL TONIGHT
Ryan: “There Are No Sides” on Charlottesville
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

After taking fire for not forcefully condemning President Trump's statements on Charlottesville, Speaker Paul Ryan today issued a statement that takes issue with any "moral relativism" when it comes to Neo-Nazis. "There are no sides," he wrote. "There is no other argument. We will not tolerate this hateful ideology in our society." Ryan participates in a CNN town hall tonight from Racine, Wis.

Source:
MAY BOOST TROOP LEVELS
Trump to Make Prime Time Address on Afghanistan
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump, who has been accused by lawmakers of dragging his feet on Afghanistan, has settled on a new strategy to carry on the nearly 16-year-old conflict there, administration officials said Sunday. The move, following a detailed review, is likely to open the door to the deployment of several thousand troops." Trump will address the issue at 9:00 p.m. from Fort Myer in Arlington on Monday night.

Source:
LARGE FAMILY AND TRIPS TAKING TOLL
Secret Service Funds Depleted
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Secret Service can no longer pay hundreds of agents it needs to carry out an expanded protective—in large part due to the sheer size of President Trump's family and efforts necessary to secure their multiple residences up and down the East Coast. Secret Service Director Randolph 'Tex' Alles, in an interview with USA TODAY, said more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year."

Source:
FOR HELP WITH OPIOID PROBLEM
U.S. Health Chief: China “Incredible Partner”
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
GONE BY MONDAY
University of Texas Removes Four Confederate Monuments
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

University of Texas President Greg Fenves announced late Sunday night that school's statues depicting Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg will be removed from the Main Mall and added to the Briscoe Center for scholarly study. In the announcement he wrote, the "monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login