By Eileen Houlihan and Mark Holan, ARTBA staff
Top Obama Administration and Congressional leaders talked up transportation funding this week, but delivering solutions appears likely to bump into fast approaching deadlines.
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) April 28 told attendees at a National Journal event that Congress was going to have to pass a short-term patch before the focus can turn to a long-term transportation funding bill, something he remains “pretty confident” will get done. Shuster expects a decision on a short-term patch – which he would like to see last “several months,” through the end of the busy construction season – to come in the second or third week of May, prior to Congress’ break for Memorial Day recess and the May 31 funding expiration of Highway Trust Fund reauthorization.
Shuster and other experts have said lawmakers would need to find about $10 billion to shore up the trust fund through the end of the calendar year. He insisted that any gas tax increase or an index to inflation would have to wait for overall tax reform, which would likely come after there is agreement over a long-term bill.
At a separate Bloomberg event April 27, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew shied away from suggestions of increasing the federal gas tax.
“The best way to fund transportation infrastructure,” Lew said, “is to tie it to something that is already popular, like business tax reform.” That task involves simplifying the tax code, lowering rates to global averages and eliminating loopholes, he said.
Foxx repeated familiar comments about the nation’s transportation system being stuck in a “big ditch,” adding he hopes Congress can move past the usual funding “tricks and gimmicks.” He said the Administration is willing to listen if Congress wants to raise the gas tax, but is more interested in hearing solutions that can win enough votes.
At the National Journal event, Shuster also reiterated the need for federal funding in transportation. “States know they need to have something at the federal level. There is a role for the federal government in transportation, not to do all of it, but to play a part of it,” he said.