NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's the start of the 2016 political season. With Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and other candidates in the presidential race, it's time for someone to perhaps suggest a new idea that could really help our economy and the general welfare, and set a candidate apart from the rest.
Here's one: A new, national 50-cent gasoline tax.
I make the case for a 50-cent gasoline tax in my new book Shale Boom, Shale Bust and also argue the timing is uniquely right to push for it now when gasoline prices are depressed and a gas tax would hardly be noticed by consumers.
The plusses to a gas tax are multiple, especially if it were committed to U.S. infrastructure improvements and support of renewable energy development, both of which are in dire need of funding. Needed infrastructure spending in order to just maintain the current quality of our roads, trains, bridges, tunnels and airports are estimated at more than $2 trillion dollars.
A 50-cent gas tax would be a great start, raising almost $70 billion a year. Without a program to restore our roads and bridges, we are going to see wide-scale outright failures in transportation soon. Also, the quickest way to support our recovering economy would be with federal infrastructure spending, providing much needed construction jobs.
Renewable energy progress has stalled with the downturn in the prices for fossil fuels. In Europe, the investment into renewables will be in 2015 at their lowest levels in five years. Progress in renewable technology cannot be made without increasing investment, particularly in solar and wind, also at the lowest levels in nearly five years. While the G7 produces platitudes about reaching a 100% renewable future by the end of the century, a gas tax actually provides some of the incentive to make that a reality.
The concurrent hit to the economy cannot be considered very deep. Lower gas prices since the fall of 2014 have not translated into tremendous windfalls for the consumer, as many thought would happen. Nor did the high prices for gas nearing $5 a gallon in 2013 tend to slow down the recovery. Too much importance has been placed on the price of gas as a motivator of economic activity.
We will never get as good an opportunity to discuss a gas tax as right now. Although it is a tough conversation to have, and one that causes politicians to run screaming in the opposite direction, a smart candidate looking to separate himself or herself from a very large pack might want to take the case of a 50-cent gas tax to the public.
As a matter of public policy supporting the general good, a national gas tax is an idea whose time has come.