Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), left, and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), earlier this year.

By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations, ARTBA

The House Ways & Means Committee, which oversees the Highway Trust Fund and all other federal tax issues, March 6 discussed the nation’s infrastructure problems for the first time under the chairmanship of Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.).

In his opening statement for the hearing, “Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and the Need for Immediate Action,” Neal set a familiar tone for the Democrats on the committee. He called for much-needed improvements in all types of infrastructure, saying, “our transport systems are the backbone of the economy.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Ways & Means former chairman and now ranking member, did the same for his Republican colleagues, placing much of the blame for the poor state of the nation’s highways on bureaucratic red tape and the use of user fees for non-highway related projects.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the T&I’s ranking member, also testified at the hearing. Each echoed familiar sentiments: DeFazio calling for a fuel tax increase supplemented with a bonding initiative; Graves urging a Vehicle Miles Travelled user fee should be put into place as soon as possible.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO; Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Gregory E. DiLoreto, past-chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers; Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, also appeared before the panel. They called on Congress and the Trump administration to raise the gasoline and diesel taxes to pay for future highway and transit investments. Marc Scribner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, voiced opposition to any gas tax increase, instead pointing to the need for more private investment and tolling.

Democratic leaders in Congress and members of the administration have signaled in recent weeks a willingness to consider an infrastructure package. Some reports say a package could reach a vote in the House this spring.

ARTBA continues working with our partners in D.C. to educate members of Congress, new and old, on the need to adequately address the revenue shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund in any infrastructure package this year.