Monday April 04, 2011 | 07:02 PM


Maine’s U.S. senators say a time of rising gas prices and a still fragile economic recovery is not the time to raise gas taxes.
Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe was among 22 GOP senators who sent a letter today to President Obama expressing concern over the possibility that the White House may seek a gas tax hike to fund $435 billion in new transportation spending in 2012.
Obama’sbudget doesn’t call for an increase in the gas tax, but the GOP senators cite a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office statement about the “absence of any information about the nature of the taxes or fees that might be used to produce revenues” in raising the possibility.
“In these lean economic times, Mainers budget down to the last penny, and increasing the gas tax would shift dollars away from grocery and housing needs,” said Snowe said in announcing she signed on to the letter. “With energy prices on the rise in Maine and around the nation, it is imperative the President clarify whether he will pursue an increase in the federal gas tax to fund his transportation spending plan for Fiscal Year 2012. 
Republican Sen. Susan Collins wasn’t able to sign before the deadline set by its author, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. But Collins “opposes raising the gas tax particularly at this time when families, small businesses, truck drivers, fishermen, farmers and others are already struggling to pay high fuel prices,” said Collins’ spokesman, Kevin Kelley.
Both Snowe, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s transportation subcommittee, acknowledge that Congress needs to come up with ways this year to pay for improvements to the nation’s roads, highways and other transportation infrastructure.
Snowe said that, “Ultimately, we must devise a funding mechanism for surface transportation programs that leverages private investment, evaluates all revenue options, and develops a long term solution to our transportation funding crisis.”
But in the meantime, “Americans deserve to know whether the $435 billion he (Obama) plans to “add to the Transportation Trust Fund will be raised through higher taxes at the gas pump."

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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