This column also appeared in the Sept.-Oct. issue of Transportation Builder.
By Pete Ruane, president & CEO, ARTBA
In the May-June issue of Transportation Builder, I tried to separate fact from fiction about news relating to the looming infrastructure package and other federal transportation priorities—all of which were coming in the backdrop of heated congressional debates about repealing the Affordable Care Act and President Donald Trump’s FY 2018 budget.
As it related to a Highway Trust Fund (HTF) fix, I noted we were working with a “clean slate” and that there was growing interest in Congress to address the situation.
Fast forward a few months. Congress grappled with and ultimately failed several times to change national healthcare legislation, then took a six-week recess. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, respectively, and rightfully consumed additional legislative time as Congress considered emergency assistance to aid recovery efforts. The ongoing crises with North Korea, Iran, Syria, etc. are also still prominently on the radar screen.
Nevertheless, House and Senate leaders are focused on trying to score one major domestic policy achievement in coming months: tax reform. Trump Administration officials and congressional leaders Sept. 27 announced the broad concepts in their tax plan.
While the primary focus of both chambers is currently to reduce tax rates and simplify the code, many groups, including ARTBA, believe tax reform remains the most appropriate legislative vehicle for permanently addressing the HTF’s revenue shortfall. All trust fund revenue enhancements over the last 30 years have come as part of a broad tax or budget measure.
Accordingly, House Highways & Transit Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) sent a Sept. 28 letter to tax reform leaders supporting inclusion of a HTF fix as part of tax reform. It reminded leaders of the June 12, 2017, letter that 253 bipartisan members of the House signed asking for the same thing. In addition, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) recently said he was “open to” including a revenue stream in tax reform.
Given the ongoing interest in Congress and President Trump’s prioritization of upgrading the nation’s infrastructure network, it is now incumbent upon all of us to keep the heat on lawmakers. When you talk to members of your congressional delegation in coming weeks, the message is simple: enact a stable, growing, user-based and permanent HTF revenue stream to support surface transportation improvements. Working together, we can make real progress.