Oberstar speaks

Representative James Oberstar from Minnesota, now Chair of the House Transportation Committee spoke to a State Legislative committee yesterday: No gas tax hike, less federal aid, Oberstar warns
Minnesota has not raised the gas tax in almost 20 years, while the cost of roads has of course gone up. While the legislature has passed (and may again pass) a hike in the gas tax, the Governor and putative Vice Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has vetoed, and promises to again.
In reality, motorists would probably not notice a 5 or 10 cent rise in the gas tax, that is within the natural volatility of gas prices on daily basis anyway. Second, the funds go to transportation, which is generally a popular use of the money. Third, the US financing context is rigged so states need to produce matching funds to obtain federal resources. It would seem locally advantageous for those in charge to pass (and sign) such a tax.
There is of course the question of how the money would be spent, and whether the spending priorities that would be enacted align with needs. This is particularly the case because we undercharge for the use of roads (like most of the world, there is no pricing of congestion impacts in Minnesota), and so overconsume, and thus have more congestion than we otherwise should. But gas taxes have the merit of having a low collection cost compared to tolling, so less is wasted.
Alas, the world is imperfect, and the question of which way is the best to proceed depends upon assumptions, and trading off the ideal with the achievable, which is the job of politicians.

The Prime Minister Responds

The UK PM emails road pricing signatories, those who signed the petition opposing pricing. His letter is interesting from a number of perspectives, and was clearly written in part by transportation professionals.
However there is an (intentional?) misrepresentation of the induced demand problem hidden in the text.
If it is the “beginning ,not the end of the debate”, it has not got off to a good start. There are several elements missing from the context, though perhaps they will be brought back in:
1) Hypothecation (the British term for earmarking) – money raised from transportation should be spent on transportation (or its impacts). When talking about building facilities the PM says “Tackling congestion in this way would also be extremely costly, requiring substantial sums to be diverted from other services such as education and health, or increases in taxes.” Implying more money for roads from the same gas tax is less money for something else. This is because in the UK the petrol (gas) tax is used as a cash cow to cross-subsidize other sectors of the economy that should be paid for out of general revenue or otherwise. If people instead saw transportation taxes/tolls/prices as paying for transportation services, there would be more readiness to do so.
2) Local decision making – most travel is local, decision making about tolls and pricing should be local (though obviously there are positive network externalities associated with choosing a common technological framework).