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U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee Holds Roundtable Discussion

Thursday, February 27, 2014  
The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit (Subcommittee) held a roundtable discussion with representatives of the transportation industry to discuss policy issues for the next surface transportation reauthorization bill. Represented at the hearing were the American Trucking Associations, the American Highway Use Alliance, Transportation for America, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Steel Bridge Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the AFL-CIO.

Among the many policy issues discussed, much of the roundtable focused the revenue, funding, and financing portion of the reauthorization bill. The Highway Trust Fund (Fund) has faced difficulties in recent years with declining revenues threatening the stability of the Fund, as it is funded by the revenue collected from the federal gas tax. With advances in technology and as a result of increased federal vehicle efficiency standards, fuel efficiency has resulted in fewer gallons of gas purchased, and thus has resulted in lower revenue collections. Members of the witness panel and the Subcommittee discussed the possibility of raising the gas tax to increase revenue, as well as other revenue options, such as a “vehicle miles traveled” tax. It was reported that Representative Dave Camp, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was unveiling a tax reform package that includes dedicated revenue for the Fund, in addition to the user fees. It is doubtful, however, that Congress will act on any tax reforms this year. It also was noted that President Obama was announcing a transportation plan.

Witnesses and members of the Subcommittee also discussed the funding needs for infrastructure investments, which has been difficult to provide in the wake of shortfalls in the Fund. Further complicating matters, according to some of the witnesses, were the short-term extensions of the surface transportation authorization law. Witnesses noted that such short-term extensions made planning for long-term projects difficult. Members of the witness panel advised that legislation that provides for a longer reauthorization would be the preferred solution. Earlier in the day, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, announced that the Committee would have a new highway bill under consideration in April. It will be a five to six year extension with status quo funding with an increase for inflation. Funding is the key issue. Some witnesses also expressed a willingness to support an increase in the gas tax. Some members of the Subcommittee expressed doubt that the tax increase would be a viable option in an election year.

In addition to revenue and funding issues, members of the Subcommittee and the witness panel discussed financing options, including the TIFIA grant program and the use of public-private partnerships (P3s), as well as the creation of an infrastructure bank. P3s and TIFIA grants were looked at as potential options for aiding transportation and infrastructure investments, but it was noted that these do not solve the revenue issues and the problems with the Fund. TIFIA and P3s were expanded under the current reauthorization law, and witnesses suggested that the next bill should build on these programs in addition to the other reforms enacted in the law. The panel discussion concluded with a review of the need to educate the public on infrastructure funding and financing issues, including the reasons for the troubles with the Fund.

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