(Recasts with lawmaker’s comments, adds Barrasso)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed hiking the federal gasoline tax by 25 cents a gallon in a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday about funding his infrastructure spending proposal, a Democratic lawmaker said.
Senator Tom Carper, who attended the meeting, confirmed a report by online publication Axios that the Republican president had backed the increase. The 18.4-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline has not been hiked since 1993. The federal diesel tax is 24.4 cents a gallon.
“To my surprise, President Trump, today in our meeting, offered his support for raising the gas and diesel tax by 25 cents a gallon and dedicating that money to improve our roads, highways, and bridges,” Carper said in a statement. “The president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.”
The White House did not confirm that Trump backed a gasoline tax hike in the meeting.
A White House official noted that Trump “has said everything is on the table” to achieve infrastructure improvements. “The gas tax has its pros and cons, and that’s why the president is leading a thoughtful discussion on the right way to solve our nation’s infrastructure problems,” the official added.
Trump expressed confidence on Wednesday a deal could be reached. “This is an issue where I really believe we can find common ground,” he said.
Some in Congress have said they are open to the idea of increasing the gasoline tax but that Trump would need to provide cover to win approval for the politically risky move. Republican Senator John Barrasso, who attended the meeting, said he opposed a hike. Many in Congress say such an increase has little or no chance of approval.
Trump wants to use $200 billion in federal funds to try to stimulate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure improvements over 10 years but would cut an equivalent amount in projected infrastructure spending from the federal budget as it shifted more costs to states and cities.
Democrats insist any infrastructure plan must include new revenue.
Congress has transferred nearly $140 billion to the Highway Trust Fund since 2008. Lawmakers, to maintain current spending levels, would need to approve an additional $107 billion from 2021 through 2026.
Last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed hiking fuel taxes by 25 cents a gallon, which it said would raise $394 billion over the next 10 years.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney