AASHTO Journal, 20 May 2016
The chairman of the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee said he and his ranking member are mounting an effort to convince the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee to include a long-term revenue fix for the Highway Trust Fund in any tax reform measure it considers.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., who chairs the subcommittee that is part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, made his remarks in the T&I hearing room May 16 during an “Infrastructure Week” panel on emerging disruptive technologies, sponsored by AASHTO and the Eno Center for Transportation.
Before he joined that panel for discussion, Graves told the audience that in the five-year FAST Act Congress passed in December lawmakers left undone the issue of how to bolster the trust fund for more than a few years at a time. Instead, lawmakers paid for that surface transportation bill with short-term provisions unrelated to transportation.
“We do have to find a long-term solution to keep the Highway Trust Fund healthy for a long time to come,” Graves said. “So we are asking the Ways and Means Committee to come up with those ideas.”
Graves said he and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., his subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, are seeking co-sponsors and industry support for a bipartisan “dear colleague” letter to Ways and Means leaders. Graves said that as of May 16 about “30-plus” members of Congress had signed on.
AASHTO is among industry groups supporting the effort, said Jim Tymon, the association’s chief operating officer.
It also comes as the American Road & Transportation Builders Association has been urging its members and others to call on Congress to make a permanent trust fund fix part of any tax overhaul. ARTBA is also among the groups that have specifically endorsed the Graves-Norton letter.
The efforts are under way now because Ways and Means is expected to issue a “blueprint” in June for a broad tax reform plan its leaders would introduce as legislation in 2017.
A draft of Graves-Norton letter said that “over the past 30 years, all HTF revenue enhancements have been made as part of larger tax and deficit reduction packages . . . Accordingly, as the [Ways and Means] committee pursues tax reform over the coming months and years, we urge you to consider the sweeping impact tax policy has on the HTF and our transportation network. Not only do our roads and highways depend on a positive, long-term solution, but the American economy does as well.”
Among long-term funding options, Graves told the Infrastructure Week audience that “everything’s on the table,” but he made clear he does not favor relying on the gas tax – currently the main source of dedicated trust fund receipts.
Graves said the motor fuel tax is regressive, in that it hits lower-income drivers hardest, and no longer adequately serves as a road user fee for the growing fleet of high-efficiency or alternative-fuel vehicles.
He said he also wants to hear from state officials about what they think Congress should be considering.
The range of funding options include “everything from tolling to vehicle miles traveled to, we’ve heard heard, tire tax,” he said. “There’s a variety of different things, and we are looking at those alternatives.”
Graves said he thought taxing vehicle miles traveled “probably has the most promise,” but that “we’re trying to figure out how to do that.” He noted that VMT ideas range from GPS tracking to other options for those concerned about driver privacy, such as paying a flat fee or a yearly tax based on difference in odometer readings.