As the construction and transportation industries continue to wait for more specifics from the White House about President Trump’s still-unreleased infrastructure investment plan, some top officials are making clear that they want direct federal funds to be a keystone of the proposal, though acknowledging that public-private partnerships can be helpful in some cases.
Lawmakers and witnesses at a House highways and transit subcommittee hearing on Oct. 11 also said they want the plan to include a remedy for the Highway Trust Fund, which will face another shortfall in 2020 unless it gets a revenue infusion.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the panel has been working closely with administration officials on “principles” for the infrastructure plan “And we hope to see that soon coming out of the White House,” Shuster added..
The wait for the plan has been long. There has been little action in the House, too, said Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), the transportation committee’s top Democrat.
He noted that it has been more than nine months since the committee held its first 2017 infrastructure hearing, on Feb. 1 and House lawmakers have only rolled out a few legislative proposals.
DeFazio said that “all we’re doing around here is just talking, while the country crumbles.” He added, “I mean, seriously, let’s get to work.”
DeFazio also called for a strong federal role. He observed that more than 20 states in recent years “have stepped up” by raising revenue, mainly through increases in their own gasoline taxes. But DeFazio said those additional dollars are not enough. “They need a federal partner,” he said.
Shuster said in the search for infrastructure revenue, “I’m open to everything.” He said that P3’s “are not a silver bullet,” but added, they are “a hell of a good tool to have in the toolbag.”
Missouri DOT Director Patrick McKenna—testifying for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials—said, “AASHTO believes that an infrastructure package must focus on direct grant funding, rather than federal financing support.” [View McKenna's prepared testimony here.]
McKenna said AASHTO supports P3’s but added that options such as subsidized loans and infrastructure banks “are insufficient to meet most types of transportation investment needs.”
North America’s Building Trades Unions are looking for a “big, broad, bold infrastructure plan,” Brent Booker, the group’s secretary-treasurer, told the subcommittee. He added that the unions favor a package in the range of Trump’s $1-trillion, 10-year concept. [View Booker's prepared testimony here.]
In general, the ground that speakers at the hearing covered was familiar turf. Shuster said, “One thing…I think we all can agree on is we need to fix the Highway Trust Fund.”
James Roberts, Granite Construction president and CEO, also pointed to the trust fund’s weak finances, saying the fund “has a well-known, permanent revenue shortfall that impedes the ability of state and local governments to plan, fund and construct transportation projects.” [View Roberts' testimony here.]
Roberts, speaking for the Transportation Construction Coalition, warned that if the trust fund doesn’t get new revenue, some states could “start scaling back planned projects as early as 2019, due to federal funding uncertainty.” McKenna said Missouri could see a 40% cut in highway funding, if the trust fund isn’t supplemented.
Roberts noted that 253 House members—a majority of the chamber—have written to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, urging it to include a trust fund revenue answer in its envisioned tax reform legislation.
The letter, dated June 12, was coordinated by the TCC, which includes transportation, construction and labor groups, and the document’s lead signatories were highways and transit subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Eleanor Homes Norton (D.C.).
Roberts added,”Stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund in tax reform would provide a foundation and a platform for a broad-based, transformative infrastructure package.”