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Minister mulls tax hike for road and rail maintenance

Upkeep of infrastructure will become unviable without more funding, Blanco says

Public Works Minister José Blanco on Tuesday broached the idea of increasing taxes to pay for the upkeep and extension of Spain's transport network.

"This country needs to ask itself whether with our resources, and with the lowest tax burden in the European Union, roads and trains and the welfare state can be maintained," Blanco said. The minister's surprising remarks came in response to the association of medium-sized civil works constructors, AERCO, which has called for a special fuel levy of between three and five euro cents a liter to fund the maintenance of roads.

Blanco said it costs two billion euros a year to maintain the country's highway network, where a truck causes as much wear and tear as 5,000 automobiles, while outlays on high-speed train lines amounts to 100,000 euros per kilometer a year, and 180,000 euros if the track is in a tunnel.

The government has slashed investment in public works as part of a draconian austerity drive to reduce the shortfall in its finances.

With general elections due in March of next year, Blanco acknowledged the potential political fallout from bringing up the idea of tax hikes. "Infrastructure has to be looked at from an economic point of view. There is nothing worse than a port without traffic, an airport without airplanes and a train without passengers," he said.