By David Bauer, senior vice president of government relations, ARTBA
The House of Representatives Oct. 26 approved 216 to 212 a FY 2018 budget resolution that, among other things, will allow the Senate to prevent a Democratic filibuster of subsequent legislation intended to reform the U.S. tax code. The Senate approved the same measure Oct. 19, which means no further action is necessary.
While the primary purpose of the budget measure is to trigger a parliamentary process that will allow Republicans in the Senate to pass a tax bill with a simple majority vote—a practice already standard in the House, the legislation also includes non-binding assumptions about federal spending and budgetary practices over a 10-year period.
Among those non-binding recommendations is a dramatic drop in Highway Trust Fund (HTF)-supported spending in FY 2021. As part of the 2015 FAST Act surface transportation law, Congress transferred $70 billion into the HTF to supplement incoming gas tax and other user fee revenues to fund the measure’s modest investment increases. Those additional resources will be depleted once the FAST Act expires and the trust fund will face an average annual revenue shortfall of $20 billion in the following years.
While the budget resolution will not cause dramatic cuts in federal highway and transit investment, it is a chilling reminder of what will occur if Congress fails to address the HTF’s financial situation before FY 2020. The ARTBA co-chaired Transportation Construction Coalition continues to urge members of Congress to enact a permanent HTF revenue solution as part of the tax reform process. As 253 bipartisan House members pointed out earlier this year when they requested the same thing, “Over the past 30 years, all HTF revenue enhancements have been included in larger tax and deficit reduction packages.”
Gas Tax Vote
In a related development, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn—one of President Donald Trump’s top policy advisors—reportedly told members of Congress this week they would have an opportunity to vote on a gas tax increase as part of the infrastructure package the administration is championing. It should be clear, however, he did not say a motor fuels tax would be part of the administration’s proposal.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) also this week reinforced the need for a HTF fix, noting “[w]e can’t continue to beg, borrow and steal from different pots of money because it’s just not there anymore.”
ARTBA and its partners will continue to push for a HTF revenue fix to be included in any tax reform or infrastructure package that moves out of Congress this year or next.