U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, told state legislators Thursday that Utah's oil shale and tar sands could be a real asset with oil approaching $100 a barrel. He warned them, however, not to look to the federal government to help rebuild I-15 in Utah and Davis counties or I-80 in Salt Lake County.

"We send $1 billion a day to the Mideast and to some people who aren't friendly to us," Matheson told the House of Representatives.

Utah and the U.S. must find some new way to pay for roads, he said. That's because both the Utah gasoline tax (at 24.5 cents per gallon) and the federal gasoline tax (at 18.4 cents per gallon) are based on sales per gallon of gasoline.

And it is the hope, and plan, that America greatly increase the mileage of cars and trucks — up to an average 35 miles per gallon by 2020. "We will be driving more miles but using less gasoline," Matheson said.

So all the new road construction and repairs will actually be getting less money than today — unacceptable, he said.

Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, asked since I-15 and I-80 are federal roads, why isn't the federal government paying to repair and expand them? If Congress won't, will it at least give Utah some of the federal gas tax? she asked.

No, said Matheson, noting that Utah now gets more back from the federal government in gasoline tax money than it actually sends.

"So you may not want to mess with changing" the federal gasoline tax formula distribution, he added.

Finally, Matheson said President Bush vetoed an attempt to extend the federal CHIP program to all uninsured children who would qualify.

"We are just waiting for a new president, next year, and we will get that done," Matheson said.


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