By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA
Senators from both parties Nov. 28 acknowledged the need to find a revenue solution for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) as the foundation of any 2019 infrastructure package. Their comments came during a Senate Environment & Public Works Committee hearing, which was the first post-election public congressional on the issue.
“New funding is needed to keep pace with demands, and burdensome federal regulations have slowed efforts to spend money efficiently. The time has come to cut red tape and to make significant investments in our roads and bridges – investments necessary to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent,” said Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Ranking Democrat Tom Carper (D-Del.), a long-time advocate of raising federal motor fuels tax rates, added Congress faces “significant challenges in reauthorizing our surface transportation programs, the most important of which is the need to identify sustainable sources of funding to address the growing deficit in the Highway Trust Fund.”
The hearing soon turned to how to solve the HTF revenue gap. Hearing witnesses agreed that increasing federal motor fuels taxes is the immediate answer. Other ideas, such as a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee, are seen as long-term solutions. Most importantly, committee members recognized the solution is going to require real revenue. The senators were also clear in their desire to channel additional funding through the current highway and transit programs, rather than new delivery methods.
President Donald Trump’s previous comments about supporting a federal gas tax increase also received fresh attention. Senators on both sides of the aisle indicated the president’s leadership on the issue would increase the likelihood of success.
AASHTO President and Utah Department of Transportation Executive Carlos Braceras; ARTBA-member firm Williams Brothers Construction President Bob Lanham; and Sacramento Area Council of Governments Executive Director James Corless testified at the hearing.
More House and Senate hearings are expected on the need for a robust infrastructure funding bill in 2019. ARTBA continues to emphasize a revenue solution for the HTF that not only ensures the fund’s solvency, but also supports increased highway and transit investment of the foundation of any broad-based infrastructure package. ARTBA members are encouraged to deliver the same message as they meet their representatives and senators over the holidays.