Transportation Chief Sees ‘Window’ for Highway Bill

 Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Thursday that he sees a “window” for Congress to pass a long-term bill to boost the nation’s infrastructure funding.

Speaking with reporters at the Transportation Department’s headquarters in Washington a day after traveling to Capitol Hill, Foxx said he was optimistic lawmakers would not allow federal transportation funding to run out, as scheduled, in May.

“There is a window of time and a subset of issues that I think there is common ground on,” he said. “I think transportation is one of those issues.”  The Obama administration has proposed legislation that would spend $478 billion on road and transit projects over the next six years. Congress has approved a series of temporary infrastructure funding patches since a 2005 transportation bill expired in 2009, including a nearly $11 billion measure scheduled to expire in May. Foxx predicted Republicans may be more inclined to pass a longer infrastructure measure now that they control both houses of Congress because voters will blame them for future transportation-related problems. “I think there is a need for this new majority to show that they can govern, and one of the ways they can do that is by passing a robust transportation bill,” he said.  The Department of Transportation has said its Highway Trust Fund will run out of money on May 31 without congressional intervention. The Transportation chief pleaded with Congress for long-term transportation bill to prevent an infrastructure funding bankruptcy  during a visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday.  “Our country is too great to allow our infrastructure to fall apart,” Foxx said during a House Transportation Committee hearing. “At a time when we should be building more, we’re building less,” he continued. “Instead of saying ‘build, build, build,’ Congress has been saying ‘stop.’ ”

The Highway Trust Fund, which is used to pay for most infrastructure projects since the 1950s, is funded by revenue from the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax.  The tax has not been increased since 1993 and has struggled to keep pace with rising construction costs as cars have become more fuel-efficient. The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on infrastructure projects, but the gas tax only brings in about $34 billion annually. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to make up the difference. Transportation advocates has pushed for an increase in the gas tax for the first time in 20 years to close the gap.  Foxx said Thursday that the gas tax is not a long-term answer for transportation funding, even if it is increased now.  “For so long, we’ve thought the answer to our problems was putting more money in the juke box,” he said. “We haven’t even looked at the records that are in there. It’s changed since 1956. In fact, they’re not even records anymore. We’re using MP3s now.” The administration’s infrastructure funding proposal relies on revenue that would be collected from taxing overseas corporate profits through a process that is known as “repatriation.”

Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) have supported the repatriation proposal, although some budget groups in Washington have argued it would prove costly in the long run if companies are discouraged from reporting further foreign income. Foxx said Thursday that he is willing to support whatever funding idea Congress “coalesces around.”  The transportation chief said he was optimistic that Congress would beat the deadline for renewing federal infrastructure funding with something more than a temporary extension of the current funding legislation. “Folks on a bipartisan basis want to do something,” he said. “At this point in the game, that’s all you can ask for. Now it’s about working our way to an answer.” Foxx has sharply criticized lawmakers for passing a series of temporary patches for transportation funding since a 2005 measure expired in 2009, saying that the Band-aid bills were “killing [states’] will to build.” He said Wednesday that he was optimistic that he could convince lawmakers this year to avoid passing another patch despite previous administration failures as winning support for a large infrastructure bill. “I’m not a person to fight the last war,” Foxx said about prior transportation funding fights on Capitol Hill. “Yesterday was yesterday,” he concluded.

 

By Keith Laing – 02/12/15 04:40 PM EST – TheHill

Anthony FoxxHighway billHighway Trust FundGas TaxRepatriationMAP-21 Reauthorization

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