Congress should act now to fund Highway Trust Fund

SPI President & CEO Mary Scott Nabers

SPI President & CEO Mary Scott Nabers

The clock is ticking and time is again running out!!  The federal Highway Trust Fund will become insolvent soon if Congress does not act quickly.

Some are actually hopeful that something more than just continuing short-term, stop-gap measures to temporarily restore funding may actually happen this year.  A few innovative solutions are being discussed to replenish the fund long-term.

Public officials are nervous, however, because the deadline is close. And, Congress has a history of ignoring long-term fixes. Many states are refusing to launch critical transportation projects because of the uncertainty.  A few have already implemented increases in state gas taxes.  Others have increased fees or have embraced public-private partnerships as the only way to remedy their infrastructure needs.

Just this week, legislation was filed in Texas that would dedicate a portion of the state’s vehicle sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund. The bill’s author says his legislation could result in an additional $25 billion for transportation projects over the next 10 years. Similar legislation filed during the last legislative session didn’t get much traction. But, this time, the bill has a heavyweight supporter – the lieutenant governor.

At the federal level, transportation is a non-partisan issue. Virtually every member of Congress represents a district with huge infrastructure needs. The nation’s roads and bridges are aging and deteriorating – something must be done. So, it’s not surprising that Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, are proposing legislation that could result in $2 trillion in revenue for American infrastructure projects. Their “repatriation” legislation encourages corporations to bring money from overseas accounts into the United States and the incentive is that the taxes due would be reduced.  The senators want the new money to flow to the Highway Trust Fund.

President Barack Obama has launched a similar plan. He recently touted a $478 billion public works program that would be financed in part by a one-time mandatory tax on overseas profits. The tax proceeds, or new money, would fund highway, bridge and transit projects.

There is another non-partisan effort being led by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Barbara Mikulski.  Their bill, the Rebuild America Act, would also allocate funds to transportation projects and create millions of jobs. This concept is great and the needs are critical, but coming up with a funding source has been more than problematic.

Some members of Congress still support an increase in the gas tax, which has not been increased from its current rate of 18 cents per gallon since 1993. Because gas prices have dropped, they seem to think the public might be amenable to an increase in the tax.

Lots of options, but not much certainty!  With the American Society of Civil Engineers saying $1.6 trillion is desperately needed for the nation’s infrastructure by 2020, citizens can only hope for a long-term fix.