House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) encouraged support for increasing the motor fuels tax to fund the nation’s infrastructure during a March 6 committee hearing to examine the Trump Administration’s infrastructure proposal. The Congressman also questioned Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao about the concept of asset recycling, which could lead to commercial rest areas and tolls.
The hearing marked the second of three scheduled in recent days by the House T&I and Senate Environment and Public Works committees to explore the White House infrastructure framework issued in mid-February.
NATSO submitted joint statements for the record along with the National League of Cities for each of the hearings expressing strong opposition to commercial rest areas. The two organizations also issued a statement to media early March 7 urging lawmakers to avoid actions that will close businesses and put people out of work.
“The private businesses operating near the Interstate Highway are frequently the largest sources of tax revenue in many localities, providing critical financial resources and employment opportunities across America,” said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings. “If the government is allowed to unfairly compete against the private sector under a government-sanctioned monopoly, these businesses would be harmed to a degree that they no longer could provide jobs or contribute to local coffers.”
Clarence E. Anthony, NLC’s CEO and Executive Director, said, commercializing rest areas would effectively displace property tax revenue that cities and towns near interstates depend on. “This loss of revenue would directly impact the ability of municipalities to pay for their own infrastructure needs, widening the nation’s infrastructure gap,” he said.
Rep. Shuster said March 6 that a 25 cent per gallon fuel tax increase — a figure Rep. Shuster said was proposed by President Trump during a recent meeting with lawmakers — represented “a great starting point” for discussing a motor fuels tax increase.
Acknowledging longstanding opposition by some lawmakers to a fuel tax increase, the Committee Chairman said, “Conservatives say it is regressive user fee, but it has a progressive benefit.”
“We’re talking about something that has a huge benefit to those that live in rural populations and it benefits urban centers so that they can get across those rural areas,” Congressman Shuster said, adding that a 15-cent increase in the fuel tax was the equivalent of buying a cup of coffee or two bottles of water.
Rep. Shuster asked Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who was the sole witness, to elaborate on asset recycling.
The Administration in its infrastructure framework called for 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.
Secretary Chao said the Administration wants all funding and finance options on the table and that “we should look at other countries as mentioned like Australia … in which there are public private partnerships.”
“In some of our states we do not allow some of these funding options to be utilized,” Secretary Chao said. “We are saying let’s be open to other options. … I would like to encourage all of us to look at the other options and not forbid any one of them.”
Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) strongly opposed public private partnerships during the March 6 hearing, saying that selling off the nation’s infrastructure is a “cash grab” and not a solution to the nation’s infrastructure funding crisis.
“The White House plan contains several attempts to push a privatization agenda,” Rep. Esty said. “This isn’t a solution. [Public private partnerships] will not solve our infrastructure crisis and will not solve the vast majority of surface transportation projects.”
Congresswoman Esty said Congress and the White House missed a massive opportunity to fix infrastructure funding in the tax reform bill passed late last year.
“We continue to spin our wheels,” she said.
The T&I Committee kicks off yet another infrastructure hearing this morning, during which American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear is scheduled to testify.
Photo credit: Jules Clifford/NATSO
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