As key House and Senate transportation committees hold their first hearings on the Trump Administration’s infrastructure proposal, NATSO and the National League of Cities are urging lawmakers to reject any proposals to commercialize rest areas and instead pursue policies that will improve rather than undercut the ability of small businesses and communities to grow and prosper.
NATSO and the National League of Cities today will submit a statement for the record to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee detailing the negative effects of commercial rest areas on businesses, consumers and local communities with regard to its hearings scheduled to be held March 6 and 7 on the Trump Administration's infrastructure framework.
The Administration in mid-February unveiled its official infrastructure proposal, which called for commercial rest areas and liberalizing tolling policy — both of which NATSO strongly opposes.
In their joint statements, NATSO and NLC said that commercializing rest areas undermines the small businesses that have played by the rules and the communities that depend on off-highway businesses as a vital part of their tax and employment base.
Commercial services at rest areas effectively displace property tax payers located in cities and towns adjacent to Interstates with a business entity at rest areas that pays no local government property or sales tax. With the corresponding decrease in the tax base, the localities impacted by new state-supported rest areas would be less able to pay for their own infrastructure needs, furthering the nation’s infrastructure gap, the groups wrote.
During the March 1 EPW hearing, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) highlighted written statements from Secretary Chao during her confirmation hearings in which she said that she intended to adhere to the existing law that prohibits commercial rest areas.
Sen. Moran expressed concern about the negative effects that commercial rest areas would have on small businesses in rural states and reminded Secretary Chao that Congress overwhelmingly voted against commercial rest areas in 2012, voting it down 86 to 12.
Secretary Chao responded, “I hear you.”
The House hearing on March 7 kicks off an effort by T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) to drive an infrastructure bill through the Chamber before Summer recess — a timetable that many have called overly ambitious.
House Leadership hasn’t yet afforded the committee floor time. And Senate leaders continue to express doubts that the upper Chamber can get an infrastructure package done this year — all of which means that infrastructure legislation is likely to spill into 2019.
Among the witnesses March 7 will be American Trucking Associations’ President and CEO Chris Spear, who is expected to oppose what ATA has previously called “fake funding schemes like highway tolls and privatizing rest areas.” The association undoubtedly also will promote its Build America Fee to fund highway infrastructure.
ATA’s Build America Fund, which is in line with most of the funding principles that NATSO uses to evaluate infrastructure funding proposals, would be supported with a federal fuel usage fee built into the price of wholesale transportation fuels collected at the terminal rack and phased in at a nickel per year over four years. The fee would be indexed to both inflation and improvements in fuel efficiency, with a five percent annual cap. ATA says the BAF would generate $340 billion in new revenue in 10 years.
Other witnesses at the House hearing include Ed Mortimer, Executive Director, Transportation and Infrastructure, for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which recently introduced a proposal for a 25-cent increase in the gas tax.
Senate EPW Committee members asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao March 1 whether the President supported a 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase. Secretary Chao declined to answer citing that conversations between cabinet officials and the President are private.
It has been widely reported that the President expressed support for increasing the motor fuels taxes during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers just a few weeks ago. The White House has never confirmed those statements, however.
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