By Dean Franks, vice president of congressional affairs, ARTBA
Members of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee for the second consecutive week convened a session on improving the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure. While the panel’s June 18 hearing focused on the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), its June 25 session turned to financing options, and specifically the pros and cons of private sector revenue for transportation projects. Senators and witnesses discussed various ideas, including: Private Activity Bonds; state infrastructure banks; the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program; concessions projects; tolling the Interstate system; and a new infrastructure bond idea from committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
All agreed though that these options could only augment the core federal and state programs, as Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) explained in his opening statement: “Because of the large capital costs associated with infrastructure, financing alternatives can give states more flexibility in producing the capital they need to build projects faster. However, we should also remember that financing carries with it the expectation of repayment and future return.”
Members of the committee and witnesses at the hearing consistently referenced the difference between transportation program funding and project financing and—unlike some other discussions—no participant in this discussion advocated financing tools as a means to stabilize the HTF.
The Senate Finance Committee oversees all tax and revenue for the HTF. Hatch and Wyden have made it clear in both hearings that finding a solution to the looming shortfall by the July 31 expiration of the latest extension is a top priority when the Senate returns after next its week-long recess for the July 4 holiday.