Bipartisan Lawmakers Urge Congress to Enact Infrastructure Legislation
Key Challenge is “to Provide Stable Long-Term Sustainable Funding”
The Problem Solvers Caucus in the United States Congress released a new report this week with bipartisan policy recommendations to renew and build US infrastructure.
The forty-eight member caucus, led by Representative Tom Reed, a Republican of New York, and Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, launched an infrastructure working group to find consensus on a bipartisan set of policies for a plan that addresses the need to rebuild and invest in infrastructure across the US.
The infrastructure working group, met with over one-hundred outside stakeholder organizations, the administration, and leaders in Congress, to develop concepts to move an infrastructure plan forward. These bipartisan policy options will be the foundation for a comprehensive plan to improve the nation’s highways, roads and bridges, transit and railways, ports and airports, water and sewer systems, energy systems and the power grid, and broadband and communications networks.
“Today, one-third of the bridges and tunnels in New Jersey are considered unsafe, and we have the eighth worst roads in the country,” said Gottheimer. “Today’s report details options for solving these problems, and it’s a good bipartisan starting point.”
The key recommendation in the report is for Congress “to provide stable long-term sustainable funding for infrastructure.” That would take several forms, including an increase in the federal gasoline tax, expanding the tax-advantaged infrastructure financing options of municipal and private activity bonds, and incentivizing public-private partnerships and private-sector solutions for infrastructure development.
The report shined a spotlight on problems with the Highway Trust Fund, which is supposed to provide federal dollars for building and maintaining surface roadways and which is funded primarily with the federal gasoline tax. Since 2008, however, spending has exceeded declining revenue in the fund, and the 18.4 cents per-gallon gas tax has not been increased since 1993.
“As a result,” the report noted, “Congress has been supplementing the trust fund since 2008 to the tune of $140 billion through significant transfers from the US Treasury general fund and transfers from other federal funds. This spending puts the burden of today’s infrastructure needs on tomorrow’s children.” The report made the case for hiking the federal gas tax, which it euphemistically referred to the “federal gasoline user fee.”
[According to reporting in the Washington Post, President Donald Trump has privately suggested hiking the gas tax to 50 cents per gallon, but that congressional Republicans have rejected that idea.]
When it comes to ports and inland waterways, the management of another federal so-called trust fund is limiting the number of federal dollars headed toward maintaining and enhancing that aspect of US infrastructure. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is funded through a .125 percent tax assessed on
the value of imported commercial cargo. This user fee and the trust fund are supposed to pay for harbor maintenance and dredging, but those funds must be released through annual congressional appropriations and Congress often releases less than the amount collected through the harbor maintenance fee.
“Allowing the expenditure of Harbor Maintenance Tax revenues would provide more than $18 billion over the next decade, which is a 29 percent increase in investment,” the report noted.
“This is a simple matter of accountability to taxpayers,” the report concluded. “Americans must feel confident that user fees are never diverted away from the purpose for which they are collected.” As President Trump might say: “So true!”
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