U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx Feb. 11 told House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee members that the country needs a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill. Foxx identified specific areas of concern, including the need to take better care of the system we have, the need to “build new things again,” and the need to make the nation’s transportation system “smarter, more efficient and more effective.”
Foxx pressed the committee on the need for greater investment in transportation, noting that “instead of saying build, build, build, Congress has been saying stop” by substituting short-term fixes for a long-term bill. He urged the Committee to “stop budgeting for numbers” and instead “budget for results.”
The Secretary also outlined the aspects of the Administration’s updated six-year, $478 billion “GROW America” reauthorization proposal. Foxx noted “merely replenishing the Highway Trust Fund will keep us at a level that falls short of even meeting our maintenance needs.” GROW America, he explained, would address problems beyond maintenance and be paid for by a one-time repatriation tax which Foxx termed “pro-growth, business tax reform.” He called on the Committee to “set the ceiling, not the floor,” when addressing reauthorization, noting that the nation “needs to play to win as a country again.”
Committee members generally agreed with Foxx about the need for a long term bill, with Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) terming reauthorization the “top priority” of the committee. Shuster also highlighted the many benefits of meaningful reauthorization measure, saying: “This bill is about allowing U.S. businesses to be competitive and allowing our economy to prosper and grow. It’s about making sure that Americans don’t waste countless hours stuck in traffic.”
Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore) agreed with the need for long-term, stable transportation funding, but was skeptical of the mechanism proposed by the Administration to fund its GROW America proposal. He cautioned that it likely would not be approved by the current Congress. DeFazio asked Secretary Foxx if he had a “back-up” funding plan, to which Foxx replied the Administration is “all ears.” Rick Larsen (D-Wash) followed up on DeFazio’s point, pointing out the Administration’s repatriation proposal is a “one-time” fix and that a longer term solution is needed to address transportation funding.
Shuster and Foxx moved from the committee hearing to co-host a “Twitter Town Hall,” where they fielded questions about the nation’s transportation network. ARTBA tweeted its 50-state map highlighting that the Highway Trust Fund is the source, on average, of nearly 52 percent of all state highway and bridge capital investments annually. The ARTBA tweet was subsequently re-tweeted by others.
During the Town Hall, both Foxx and Shuster rebuffed the idea that the federal responsibility for investing in surface transportation infrastructure should be turned to the state with Shuster responding, “60 years ago the states had the responsibility and we were unable to build a national transportation system. It is a fundamental function of government: federal, state, and local to fund and build a national system.” Foxx added, “America is growing fast; infrastructure is not. Need more $ at federal AND state level to catch up—not either/or.”
The T&I Committee will hold its second reauthorization hearing February 26.