The U.S. Senate on Jan. 31 voted 93 to 6, confirming Elaine Chao as the 18th Secretary of Transportation, replacing outgoing Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Chao, who served as the Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush, and as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush, was viewed as the least contentious of all of President Trump’s nominees for cabinet positions.
In congratulating Madam Secretary Chao, NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings said the travel plaza and truckstop industry looks forward to working with her on a broad spectrum of issues, including the need to find permanent, sustainable solutions to funding the Highway Trust Fund. She urged Secretary Chao, however, to seek solutions that solve the nation’s infrastructure investment challenges without harming the interstate-exit based businesses that help to support the nation’s economy and their local communities or putting public safety at risk.
“Specifically, we hope that the Department of Transportation will eschew such revenue schemes as tolling and commercializing rest areas, both of which harm interstate exit-based businesses, the local communities that they support and consumers,” Mullings said. “NATSO and the entire truckstop and travel plaza community are eager to work with Madam Secretary Chao to address the nation’s infrastructure needs in the interest of building a safer, more efficient national infrastructure network that will serve today’s modern economy."
During her confirmation hearing in mid-January, Secretary Chao said the Trump Administration would leverage private investment along with direct federal spending to address the nation’s infrastructure needs. President Trump has called for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next decade driven by private investment and tax credits.
Private sector financing is a funding strategy that could lead to revenue schemes such as tolling and rest area commercialization, which NATSO opposes. NATSO has long supported increasing the motor fuels tax as the most efficient method of increasing infrastructure funding.
Secretary Chao’s confirmation came as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee prepared to hold a hearing to examine the challenges facing the nation’s infrastructure on Feb. 1.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said that he plans to meet with Secretary Chao soon.
Rep. Shuster said Jan. 31 following the Congressional GOP retreat that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) laid out a “game plan” for putting together an infrastructure plan and looks to do something in late spring or early summer driven by tax reform.
The House is expected to roll out its fiscal 2018 budget in late April or early May.
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