Infrastructure Poised to Top 2018 Legislative Policy Agenda

Infrastructure is poised to become a top item on the 2018 legislative policy agenda with the White House announcing that it will issue guidelines for its long-awaited infrastructure plan before President Trump’s State of the Union address later this month.

Infrastructure is poised to become a top item on the 2018 legislative policy agenda with the White House announcing that it will issue guidelines for its long-awaited infrastructure plan before President Trump’s State of the Union address later this month.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) on Jan. 2 also announced that he will retire at the end of the year after spending 100 percent of 2018 focused on passing an infrastructure bill.

Since his campaign, President Trump has pledged to invest $1 trillion to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges and airports, but so far the Administration has released few details as to how such a massive plan would be paid for. White House officials said they plan to release an infrastructure principles document before Jan. 30 that they hope Congress will adopt when writing official legislation.

Although it remains to be seen what the guidelines contain, the White House has previously indicated that $200 billion will come from direct federal spending, with the remainder coming from state, local and private sources.

Chairman Shuster met with the President and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and other officials in mid-December to discuss priorities for infrastructure legislation. The Congressman has said little about that meeting other than that his “main message” to the President was that bipartisan support is critical to the successful passage of an infrastructure bill.

Infrastructure historically has been viewed as an issue that can easily garner support from both Republicans and Democrats, and lawmakers are hungry for a bipartisan issue after passing tax reform before the holiday recess.

However both Democrats and Republicans have been wary about some aspects of the President’s infrastructure plan, including the concept of shifting funding responsibility away from the federal government onto states and cities, which some consider to be "devolution."

NATSO believes that the Federal government must maintain a strong role in the nation’s infrastructure policy and that the most sustainable and efficient mechanism for generating revenues for the Highway Trust Fund is the motor fuels excise tax.

The federal excise taxes on gasoline and diesel were last increased almost 25 years ago. As a result, the fuel excise taxes generate less than half of relative revenue (accounting for inflation, increases in construction costs, etc.) today than when the tax was increased in 1994. As states shoulder more of their infrastructure construction costs, they are more likely to raise their state motor fuels taxes, creating greater tax disparities between states, or add new toll roads. For years, NATSO has supported an increase in the federal fuels tax along with the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

The President has indicated that he would be open to increasing the motor fuels taxes and it has been widely speculated that the pending guidelines could recommend a 7 cents per gallon increase on gasoline. However that figure has never been confirmed by the White House.

Although details of the Trump Administration’s infrastructure plan have been spotty, the Administration has indicated that just $200 billion would come from the federal government.

Lawmakers continue to express mixed reaction to the idea of increasing the motor fuels tax. House Transportation Committee ranking Democrat Peter DeFazio (Ore.) supports an increase, arguing that in the short term there are no other options. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) who is running to succeed Rep. Shuster, has said that everything should be on the table.

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), however, continues to say that he doesn’t think there is political support for increasing the motor fuels tax.

The $200 billion would be split into four pots dedicated to rural infrastructure, existing credit programs, and "transformative" projects. A fourth pot would go to state and local governments that can raise the most non-federal funds for their infrastructure projects.

The remaining $800 billion is epected to come from state, local and private sources.

The President expressed support for public-private partnerships when he issued his 2018 budget proposal, which called for liberalizing tolling policy and commercial rest areas. But he has since indicated that he is less excited about P3s.

The Administration continues to discuss "asset recycling," however, which could very easily lead to tolling and rest area commercialization, both of which NATSO strongly opposes as they would harm all businesses operating near the Interstate. Implemented by the Australian Government, asset recycling funds new infrastructure and revitalizes existing infrastructure through the sale or lease of public assets

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