House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) strongly advocated for private financing as a means of funding infrastructure projects during a Subcommittee hearing Oct. 11, demonstrating a willingness to support policies that would lead to the commercialization of Interstate rest areas and threaten the truckstop and travel plaza industry.
During a House Highways and Transit Subcommittee hearing to explore solutions for boosting infrastructure investment and stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund, Rep. Shuster spoke positively about private financing options, including Connecticut's decision to allow a private company to lease and update the state's commercial rest areas.
Rep. Shuster indicated his desire to identify similar infrastructure proposals, stating that once privatized, the revenue would be subject to state, local and federal taxes. Such partnerships are not, in fact, subject to local taxes and ultimately transfer those local revenues to federal and state coffers. Rep. Shuster also said that he would like other states such as Texas and Pennsylvania to adopt similar approaches.
Rep. Shuster also made numerous references to "asset recycling," which could very easily lead to tolling and rest area commercialization. Implemented by the Australian Government, asset recycling funds new infrastructure and revitalizes existing infrastructure through the sale or lease of public assets.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) pushed back on the idea of asset recycling, arguing that what works for Australia will not necessarily work for the United States.
Lawmakers and witnesses discussed myriad ideas for finding a long-term, permanent solution to funding the Highway Trust Fund, including increasing the motor fuels tax and the potential to shore up the Trust Fund through tax reform legislation.
In general, Republican committee members favored devolving infrastructure funding to the states and private financing options while Democratic lawmakers preferred raising the motor fuels tax, arguing that it was the easiest and most efficient way to fund infrastructure.
Peter Rogoff, Chief Executive Officer of Sound Transit, testified that federal funds should reward states and localities for doing their part to fund infrastructure by providing matching funds and raising the gas tax. Members of the subcommittee generally agreed, with some saying they want to reward states for doing the “right thing.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who supports increasing the federal motor fuels tax and introduced A Penny for Progress earlier this year, warned that many states already have increased their gas taxes and said that partnership incentives should not be forward looking.
Although there was limited discussion of tolling, Rep. Holmes Norton expressed opposition to tolling, including fast or express lanes, in her opening remarks citing the double taxation of motorists who already pay for infrastructure when they fuel their vehicles. Rep. Norton also said that toll lanes only benefit drivers with disposable income.
Rep. Holmes Norton also referenced a June 12 letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brady and Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-Mass.), signed by more than 250 members of the House, requesting that they provide a long-term fix for the HTF in any tax reform bill.
Additional witnesses included Patrick McKenna, Director, Missouri Department of Transportation; on behalf of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; James Roberts, President and CEO, Granite Construction; on behalf of the Transportation Construction Coalition; Brent Booker, Secretary-Treasurer, North America’s Building Trades Unions; and Ray McCarty, President and Chief Executive Officer, Associated Industries of Missouri; on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers.
Multiple Congressional committees have held hearings this year to collect input on how to proceed with a massive infrastructure plan. Elected officials, however, expressed frustration Oct. 11 with the lack of a formal proposal from the White House.
President Trump campaigned on the promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, but so far the Administration has not put forth a formal blueprint. Earlier this year, in the White House budget proposal, the Administration said an infrastructure plan should include liberalizing tolling policy and private investment in rest areas, which NATSO strongly opposes as they would pull the rug out from under the thousands of truckstops, restaurants, convenience stores, hotels, fuel retailers that operate at the Interstate exit interchanges. Such policies would further devastate blind merchants, who operate vending machines at Interstate rest areas.
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