Congress held multiple infrastructure hearings in recent days during which lawmakers and witnesses reiterated long-standing calls to fix the nation’s infrastructure funding gaps and began laying the groundwork for House Leadership to bring an infrastructure bill to the floor by spring.
While general bipartisan consensus emerged that an infrastructure bill needs to move this year, inveterate arguments persisted over how to fix the funding shortfall and increase revenues -- illustrating that agreement on the best path forward remains elusive.
The hearings, held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (which has jurisdiction over infrastructure policy in the Senate) and the House Ways & Means Committee (which had jurisdiction over tax policy and works closely with the House Transportation Committee) came on the heels of a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing also focused on infrastructure funding in early February.
Testifying before the Ways and Means Committee, House T&I Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) renewed his call for increasing the federal motor fuels taxes, arguing that it represents the easiest and most efficient way to fund infrastructure improvements in the near-term. He also has called for a nationwide pilot program to study the use of vehicle miles traveled.
Although the call was met with some support, including from Rep. Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Republicans by and large argued the merits of transitioning immediately to a vehicle miles traveled fee, streamlining permitting reforms and exploring public-private partnerships. Some Republicans explicitly have supported tolling as an option.
T&I Ranking Member Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) wants to focus on a vehicle miles traveled fee as a long-term solution rather than expend political capital on pushing for a controversial motor fuels tax increase.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Committee, called the Highway Trust Fund “a leaky bucket” used for too many things, and said that the permitting process had obstructed too many projects. Rep. Brady called for cutting bureaucratic red tape to “responsibly accelerate” projects and attracting private investment.
Rep. Brady said it would be a mistake to fund infrastructure by raising taxes. In speaking with reporters after the hearing, Rep. Brady said, "I don't see a consensus among Republicans for higher gas taxes or vehicle miles traveled."
Many lawmakers think increasing the motor fuels tax requires a firm, public commitment from President Trump, who has privately stated that he would support an increase but has not done so publicly.
NATSO submitted a statement for the record in the House Ways and Committee hearing. In the statement, NATSO reiterated its support for long-term, sustainable infrastructure funding and its opposition to counter-productive revenue schemes in a statement submitted to the Record for the House Ways and Means Committee hearing. NATSO urged Congress to support smart and efficient infrastructure policies as it begins to consider a massive infrastructure package and oppose short-cuts to real infrastructure investment, such as tolling existing interstates and commercializing interstate rest areas.
Infrastructure funding, NATSO said, should be: user-based; simple, efficient and inexpensive to collect; difficult for taxpayers to evade; energy-source neutral; transparent; and dedicated to surface transportation for the benefit of the payer. Revenue generated by any funding solution should contain automatic adjustments to mitigate trends that decrease the revenue it generates, NATSO said.
During a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing held the same day, Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) largely focused his remarks on permitting reforms and did not address revenues. Sen. Barrasso has consistently opposed increasing the motor fuels taxes but has expressed opposition to commercializing rest areas. At the Senate Hearing, EPW Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Delaware) announced that he was introducing legislation to provide funding for electric vehicle investments along federally designated Alternative Fuel Corridors. NATSO opposes this legislation because it does not provide money to all of the alternative fuels that are a part of the alternative fuels corridor program (such as compressed natural gas), and further because the legislation would provide additional grant funds to public utilities that already rate-base electric vehicle charging infrastructure investments.
Of importance to NATSO members, the issue of commercializing rest areas was not directly raised during either of these hearings. Witnesses and lawmakers did, however, discuss tolling both new and existing capacity, which NATSO strongly opposes.
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