AASHTO Journal, 26 February 2016
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will soon turn its attention back to the Highway Trust Fund, two senior committee members told state officials, and begin what could be a lengthy discussion of how Congress can provide a sustainable, long-term revenue stream.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., made his remarks in a Feb. 24 speech to the Washington Briefing of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Graves chairs the T&I highways and transit subcommittee.
He said the work could take a year or more but said lawmakers will put all funding options on the table including a higher motor fuels tax, increased tolling and a conversion to charging drivers for their actual vehicle miles traveled as a direct fee to use the road system. Graves made clear that he thinks the effort will eventually move toward VMT pricing.
Graves said lawmakers should be able to agree on a funding solution in a year or two, and “I really believe we’ll end up with some form of vehicle miles traveled.”
Graves was part of a session that included speeches by ranking T&I Democrat Peter DeFazio of Oregon; Senate EPW Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla.; and EPW Ranking Member Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Complete comments to the conference from each of the four congressional members are available at TransportationTV.org.
DeFazio in his speech said Congress needs to substantially increase infrastructure investment and provide a sustainable funding stream, which the new FAST Act does not do.
He told the conference he had added language in the FAST Act to provide that if Congress finds extra revenue for surface transportation in the next few years the money would automatically be distributed through the trust fund’s formula programs.
DeFazio noted that Oregon has a major VMT pricing system pilot program under way. But he cited some difficulties with adopting a VMT-type user fee across the country, including its complexity and the privacy concerns it raises for some. He said he favors an upstream wholesale tax on the portion of oil used in transportation, and said it could be collected easily.
DeFazio also told AASHTO Journal he expects T&I Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to begin talks on finding a long-term funding solution sometime this spring, after the House completes work on a reauthorization of aviation programs.
The current aviation law expires March 31, but DeFazio said Congress will need to extend it since both the House and Senate are not likely to agree on that measure in just one more month.
On Feb. 25, news agencies reported that House leadership was shelving for now the T&I Committee’s bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and split off its air traffic control functions to a nonprofit corporation. Reports said lawmakers would now prepare an extension of current FAA authority while they sort out how to proceed on a long-term aviation bill.
Graves did not say specifically when the long-term funding talks would begin but told AASHTO Journal: “We’re actually going to start right away.” He said he and Shuster might hold both discussion roundtables and formal hearings, but he expected much of the effort to be in roundtable discussions with various stakeholders.
Graves also said his goal would be to not just cover the annual shortfall between what the trust fund spends and how much it receives in dedicated funds, but to also increase funding for infrastructure investment.