Bipartisan highway bill would tie federal gas tax to inflation, create transportation commission

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A bipartisan group of representatives have introduced a long-term bill for funding infrastructure that would tie the gas tax to inflation and create a bipartisan, bicameral Transportation Commission to provide long-term funding of the Highway Trust Fund.

The Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which provides the bulk of road and bridge project budgets, will dry up on May 31 if legislators do not take action before then.

Reps. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), Bill Pascrell (D-New Jersey), Reid Ribble (R-Wisconsin), and Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) on April 16 introduced H.R. 1846, also known as the Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act.

The bill would index gas and diesel user fees to inflation, which officials expect would raise $27.5 billion for 1.7 years. Following this, the act provides for the creation of a Transportation Commission by September 1, 2015, whose function would be to determine “a path forward for sustainable funding, and would be advised to consider all options,” according to a statement on the bill.

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It would require Congress to “enact the recommendations of the commission, or any other funding mechanism that achieves at least three years of funding for the Highway Trust Fund” by a December 31, 2016 deadline. Missing the deadline would result in gas and diesel user fees to increase “to a level that would sustain the trust fund for a three-year period.”

Again, if no funding solution is achieved in that three-year period, the user fees would go up to fund five more years of the HTF. Adding these periods of time together, the bill’s sponsors believe 10 years of HTF funding will be provided.

“We refuse to pass on the liability of our deteriorating roads and bridges to our children and grandchildren,” Renacci, Pascrell, Ribble, and Lipinski said in a joint statement. “The longer we wait to fix our crumbling infrastructure, the more it will cost in the long-run. We need to act now to fix the broken system. The users of our roads, workers, and state and local governments need the certainty that adequate and timely transportation program reauthorizations and funding provide.

“The Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act allows for the consideration of all viable options so that Congress can get serious about finding a long-term, sustainable solution for the Highway Trust Fund. It is our sincere hope that our colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support this important legislation so that the burden of our failing infrastructure isn’t passed on to the next generation.”

A number of organizations support the bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; American Trucking Association (ATA); Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii); Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM); American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); American Public Transportation Association (APTA); American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA); Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM); American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC); Associated General Contractors (AGC); AAA; Highway Users Alliance; AFL-CIO; American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI); National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA); American Traffic Safety Services Association; Associated Equipment Distributors (AED); National Sand, Stone, and Gravel Association (NSSGA); Portland Cement and the International Union of Operating Engineers.

About the bill, AEM said, “In essence, this legislation would force Congress to act. It would make the Highway Trust Fund solvent in the short-run and bring together a bipartisan group of leaders in Congress to figure out a way to finance America’s surface transportation for the future. And if those efforts fail, this plan provides a path forward to ensure the Highway Trust Fund is made whole in the future.”

“Congress should avoid passing short-term extensions that are, today, putting people out of work and forcing states to cancel or delay critical projects necessary to save lives and address system maintenance and congestion needs,” said Dave Osiecki, executive vice president of the American Trucking Association.

“Since 2008 Congress has failed to address the long-term health of our transportation system and has instead settled for short-term patches that avoid the underlying funding issue and leave our roads and bridges to crumble,” said AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet. “This bill ensures Congress won’t be able to let itself off the hook again, and will finally be required to address the issue of paying for infrastructure in a pragmatic, immediate and sustainable fashion.”

“Two key elements of the proposal, indexing the current federal motor fuels tax rate to inflation and utilizing highway user-fees to continue to pay for surface transportation, are common sense funding solutions” said ASCE President Robert D. Stevens. “ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which gave America’s infrastructure an overall grade of D+, underscores the need to fix the Highway Trust Fund. As stewards of the nation’s infrastructure we are grateful to the Representatives for their commitment to improving America’s transportation system.”

“This legislation shows that some in Congress are willing to take on challenging issues that are vital to our continued economic growth,” said AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. “The measure represents an important first step to resolving the funding challenges that have repeatedly threatened highway construction projects across the country for years now.”

“The Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act is an effective way to increase dedicated revenues for the Highway Trust Fund by immediately indexing federal motor fuel taxes and mandating increases that would support current program levels if Congress could not find an alternative source of dedicated revenues going into the Highway Trust Fund,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

The Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act can be read in its entirety here.