A series of legislative advocacy events in mid-April provided the opportunity for members, Chapter/State affiliates, and ACPA staff to discuss highway funding and other issues.
The events included the Highway Materials Group Meeting on April 14; the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) Fly-In on April 14 and 15; and the Cement & Concrete Industry Briefing on April 15.
The TCC fly-in included briefings by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.-08); House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.-09); U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx; and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.-04), as well as remarks by association leaders.
The HMG meeting included remarks by Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.-06) and Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio-07), as well as a Congressional Tax Staff panel, and remarks by association leaders.
The Cement & Concrete Industry Briefing was kicked off by Jim Toscas, President & CEO of the Portland Cement Association, and also included briefing by association staff on a wide range of current events and issues. Representing ACPA, Leif Wathne, P.E., Executive Vice President, provided an update on the Accelerated Implementation and Deployment of Pavement Technologies (AID-PT) provision of MAP 21, making the case for reauthorizing the program in the next highway bill.
Mixed Results on Highway Funding
One bit of good news from Capitol Hill is that the authorizing committees in both the House and Senate are busy drafting the transportation reauthorization legislation, Wathne said. In contrast, the committees with jurisdiction over the funding portion do not appear to be much closer to a solution, he says, noting “there is no appetite to address the funding before the current extension expires on May 31,” Wathne said. He added that HTF funding levels may actually last through the end of July, but warned there is still an urgent need to find solutions. In the broader context, the Highway Trust Fund has been near insolvency for years, a situation that did not exist before the end of SAFETEA-LU, Wathne said.
“Doing nothing is a choice and is the least fiscally responsible choice possible,” he said. “In effect, this amounts to freeloading on the investment made by previous generations, and is squandering that investment, leaving future generations to deal with the issue.
“Our broader transportation construction industry has been patient and proactive in making suggestions and recommending viable recommendations,” Wathne said. He points to ARTBA’s “Getting Beyond Gridlock” proposal, which would fund a six-year, $401 billion program by combining 15 cents-per-gallon increase in the federal gas and diesel motor fuels tax with a 100% offsetting federal tax rebate for middle and lower income Americans. A proposal was also put forward by the Vice Chair of ACPA’s Legislative Issues Task Force, Gerry Krozel; the proposal involved addressing the funding gap with a national vehicle registration user fee.
Wathne also cited solutions for fixing the HTF from the Tax Foundation; a gas tax proposal from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.-03); a proposed HTF fix from Jim Renacci (R-Ohio-16); an HTF and tax-reduction proposal from Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.); and other proposals that have been recommended by Congress or transportation industry organizations. There are others and likely will be more still. Wathne says ACPA is in favor of any viable solutions to address the funding issue, adding, “we are particularly supportive of proposals that are based on user fees.”
Kicking the Can
The disappointing news is that none of these proposals seems to have gained serious traction in Congress, effectively deferring solving the HTF issue indefinitely, a situation that has been called, “kicking the can.” (For another perspective on this, see the related story, “Voigt Responds to Lack of Support for Highway Funding.”)
“This is hampering growth and progress in addressing the critical needs of the nation’s highways,” Wathne said, adding, “DOT’s can’t plan and will be forced to postpone projects, and the result will be the future costs will be higher whenever the project is finally started.
“What is particularly disconcerting is that this is done under the pretense of fiscal conservatism, something that is a gross distortion of reality,” Wathne said. “We rely on Congressional leaders to lead, and although we have seen some excellent proposals from a few Members of Congress, it is disappointing that that some of the Leadership is not focusing on, let alone embracing, these solutions.”
Wathne is quick to add, “It is easy to point fingers, but we, the broader transportation construction industry, own some of this ourselves. We have been and continue to be supportive of elected officials who have not been helpful.”
He added a growing number of organizations are seriously considering adjusting their posture to provide support to those who are not just committed to, but are actually taking decisive actions to address the critical needs of the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure.