By David Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA

Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) quizzed U.S Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about the contradiction of the Trump Administration’s call for $1 trillion infrastructure package and its budget proposal that recommends dramatic cuts in highway and transit spending at a July 13 hearing.

Collins told Chao:

“I’m somewhat confused by some of the figures that are in the president’s budget. For example, there actually is the $95 billion cut to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) over the 10-year window. The budget simply assumes that after the Fast Act expires in fiscal year 2020 that spending from the Highway Trust Fund will be reduced to the levels supported by the current gas tax.  That seems to undermine the $200 billion initiative which is expected to leverage a $1 trillion package.  Isn’t it more accurate then to characterize the overall infrastructure proposals as only $105 billion initiative given the $95 billion reduction from the Highway Trust Fund?”

In her response, Chao noted the HTF has to be addressed in the long-term. She cited work that began under the Obama administration to explore the use of vehicle miles traveled fees and emphasized the Administration’s focus on leverage federal funds with private sector capital.

Instead of addressing the administration’s proposal to cut HTF spending, Chao shifted to the challenge of funding the $200 billion in the infrastructure package. “We are looking at ways with which to fund the infrastructure proposal, which is why it has taken us quite a while to come up the proposal and the details,” she said.

Chao added that she hoped to provide more details in the fall.

When asked by Collins about President Trump’s past comments indicating he would consider increasing the federal gas tax, Chao said “nothing is off the table.”