Wright Takes States’ Case to Capitol Hill as Time Nears for Decisions on Trust Fund
The CEO of the association representing state departments of transportation took their case to the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, telling a news conference “the time is now” for Congress to end states’ uncertainty over the expiring Highway Trust Fund and calling for lawmakers to provide a “robust” federal program.
Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, made the comments at an April 15 press event organized by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Other industry groups also participated, as part of efforts to prod Congress to enact a long-term highway and transit bill before current Highway Trust Fund authority runs out May 31. Industry speakers included Pete Ruane, president of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, and Don Shilling, chairman of Associated Equipment Distributors.
The rally came at a time when top lawmakers responsible for writing new authorizing legislation indicated they are nearly ready to push through a long-term bill, if tax-writing committees in the House and Senate are ready to propose enough new revenue for it.
It also came as the spring construction season is under way across the country. AASHTO Journal has reported that at least four states are already holding back more than $1.3 billion in projects this year because they cannot count on the federal funding share coming through on time.
“Many more will inevitably follow in the coming weeks and months,” Wright said, unless Congress moves quickly on a surface transportation plan.
Wright said many states “have enacted or are considering revenue increases to support investment in critical transportation projects,” but they still need action on the federal program that provides almost half of the annual capital investment in roads, bridges and transit.
“Without a robust federal program with a predictable flow of funds, transportation investment in this country will decline,” he said, and “the American economy and the quality of life in our communities will suffer.”
In that same news conference, Sen. Inhofe said the EPW Committee was “nearly done” with writing a new authorizing bill, and had made considerable progress on it during the two-week Easter recess. But Inhofe also noted that whether EPW can finalize a five- or six-year bill as it wants to do depends on Congress finding the revenue, and said he was meeting about that with Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Boxer said she and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., would soon introduce legislation for a plan they announced in January, a proposal to woo corporations to repatriate foreign profits with a temporarily lower tax rate and use the tax windfall to fund transportation programs.
Others participating in that rally were: Jennifer Safavian, executive vice president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association; Tom Trotter, legislative affairs representative for the AFL-CIO; Tom Foss, CEO of Griffith Co.; Nick Ivanoff, CEO of Ammann and Whitney; Robert Sells, president of Titan America’s mid-Atlantic division; and Sean Glennon, Operations Americas president at Volvo Construction Equipment.
Among other Washington developments, on April 14 House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., told reporters he expected decisions “in the coming days” on whether tax-writing lawmakers would opt to find revenue for a short-term or long-term bill this spring.
Shuster, who that day addressed the Transportation Construction Coalition’s annual legislative conference, repeated his preference to pursue a long-term bill now.
Also in the House, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation to immediately link gasoline and diesel fuel user charges to inflation while creating a special commission to recommend longer-term funding measures. If Congress has not acted on those recommendations by Dec. 31, 2016, fuel excise fees would automatically rise to keep the Highway Trust Fund paid up for three years.
The principal sponsors were Jim Renacci, R-Ohio; Reid Ribble, R-Wis.; Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.; and Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., Renacci and Pascrell are on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, while Ribble and Lipinski are T&I members. That plan quickly drew another 16 House members from both parties to sign on as co-sponsors.