AASHTO Journal, 9 May 2014
On Wednesday, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited Capitol Hill to discuss President Obama’s recently released surface transportation proposal to succeed MAP-21, which expires at the end of August. The Obama administration released its four-year, $302 billion transportation proposal last week (see related AASHTO Journal story here).
Dubbed the Grow America Act, the bill would allocate $199 billion for highways and road safety, and increase highway funding by about 22 percent over fiscal year 2014 enacted levels. The plan also calls for more than $72 billion for the Federal Transit Administration (an increase of 69 percent over the FY 2014 level), $5 billion for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants (up 108 percent from the FY 2014 level), $3 billion for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (up 32 percent from the FY 2014 level), about $3.7 billion for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (up 12 percent from FY 2014), and $19 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration (an increase of 243 percent, due to $9.5 billion set aside for a new Rail Service Improvement Program, which received no funding in FY 2014). The administration plans to pay for the bill through business tax reform, “without adding to the deficit,” according to Foxx.
Foxx testified in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation, which is chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who kicked off the hearing by discussing the importance of transportation.
“I am a firm believer that the federal government has a critical role to play in upgrading our nation’s infrastructure. We need to lead. We need to create a coherent and unified mission for our federal surface transportation programs—and in some places, we need to grow these programs. This is not a partisan issue; this is a fundamental economic issue,” Rockefeller said in his opening remarks. “The nation’s transportation system should be something that unites us, leads to growth in our economy and creates jobs. I am glad to have Secretary Foxx here today to discuss the administration’s proposal that makes some bold changes to how we look at and fund transportation.”
Committee Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD) said he was “glad” the administration released its own surface transportation proposal, especially as the Highway Trust Fund continues to slide toward a shortfall, but that he had some concerns with President Obama’s measure—specifically with the funding for the bill and also Transportation Investment Generating Economic Revenue (TIGER) expansion.
“I am skeptical about the financing proposals the administration has put forward to fund this $302 billion plan, especially the administration’s reliance upon one-time revenues from so-called corporate tax reform,” Thune said. “I am also concerned by the administration’s proposal to fund additional programs—including new programs on passenger rail and vehicle safety and an expansion of TIGER—through the successor to the Highway Trust Fund. In a time of limited revenue, it would be unwise to make new promises regarding programs that have the potential to divert funding from the core mission of the HTF.”
Foxx highlighted the merits of the President’s transportation plan to the committee, while also asking Congress to act quickly to keep the HTF solvent.
“Before the end of this summer the Highway Trust Fund—which funds a significant portion of construction and repair of our surface transportation system—is projected to become insolvent and just a few weeks later the authorities that underpin our surface transportation programs will expire,” Foxx said. “Without action, many states, tribal and local communities may be forced to slow or stop work on critical transportation projects that our nation depends upon to move people, energy, and freight every day, putting jobs at risk and slowing investment in our future. This slow-down may happen well in advance of actual insolvency.”
Foxx has recently been gearing up for a HTF showdown this summer. Just this week, he sent a letter to all state DOT leaders updating them on the HTF status and promising to keep them posted (see related AASHTO Journal story here).
Foxx’s testimony comes the same week that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer announced her committee’s bill will be ready for release on Monday (see related AASHTO Journal story here).
Additional information on the hearing, “Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps,” is available here.