By Lauren Schapker, vice president of legislative affairs, ARTBA
The House Ways & Means (W&M) Committee Jan. 29 heard from a range of witnesses offering perspectives and solutions around funding and financing infrastructure improvements. While there is bipartisan consensus about the need for infrastructure investment, common ground revenue solutions remain elusive.
Despite an emphasis from multiple witnesses on the importance of shoring up the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), discussions of real revenue solutions, like generating additional user fees, were scant. Instead, there was a focus on financing tools such as public-private partnerships, bonding, infrastructure banks and tax credits. Witnesses conceded these tools represent only a small part of the solution.
Familiar points of contention in Congress on whether to increase federal motor fuels taxes, public transportation spending, electric vehicles that do not contribute to the HTF, and the government’s role in infrastructure were discussed at length. All witnesses agreed an increase in the federal gas and diesel taxes is warranted.
Several members of Congress suggested a user free approach based on vehicle-miles travelled (VMT) is the appropriate way forward, either as a supplement or replacement to the federal gas tax.
The hearing followed the same-day announcement by House Democrats of their $760 billion infrastructure package. W&M Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) stressed he will wait on an agreement between Republicans, Democrats, and the White House before discussing specific pay-fors. The W&M Committee has jurisdiction over all federal HTF user fee revenues.
ARTBA will continue working with Democrats and Republicans on the W&M committee to ensure any infrastructure package or surface transportation reauthorization legislation includes long-term, sustainable and growing HTF revenues for highway and public transit project investments.