A ray of light in Washington when it comes to transportation funding?
October 28, 2013
The current federal transportation law—Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21str Century (MAP-21)—expires in less than a year in next September.
The calendar tells us that next September is not all that far away, but politics, especially based on the current state of affairs, could be telling us the chances of a comprehensive, long-term bill are much further away, or perhaps not.
Putting the political rancor aside, which can be hard to do for many regardless of affiliation, I was encouraged to see an article in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Push for Transportation Funding Gains Steam.”
The article noted how the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 was passed by the House of Representatives by a more than convincing 417-3 margin. How is that for bipartisanship in today’s disharmonized political times?
Among the other transportation infrastructure-related headwinds cited in the article were:
-a Congressional conference committee focused on fiscal 2014 spending, which could lead to “a bipartisan agreement that more spending is needed on infrastructure projects [and] give both parties an incentive to ease the sequester cuts”;
-the reopening of a widened Panama Canal in 2015; and
-national highway funding focused on the federal gasoline tax, which has not been raised in 20 years, and finances the Highway Trust Fund, which is constantly teetering on the edge or is insolvent.
Addressing the issue of the federal gasoline tax, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves, a Republican and former governor of Kansas, said that his party’s’ premise of refusing to pay more taxes is doing more harm than good, when it comes to transportation funding. Graves and the ATA fully support raising the tax.
“Republicans, by holding tight to the notion that there should not be any tax increases, are forcing the citizens of this country to potentially have to pay more than they otherwise would,” through more toll roads, for example, said Graves
To be sure, things are nowhere near perfect when it comes to solutions for transportation funding and how to make things better.
But even with the angst and the related risks in today’s political sphere, it is clear that some baby steps toward some type of progress are actually happening, albeit at a very slow pace.
This week, for example, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee’s Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation, whose chief objective is to examine the current state of freight transportation in the United States and how improving freight transportation can strengthen the U.S. economy, will issue its final report and recommendations to the House T&I Committee.
The subject matter germane to this hearing will focus on the usual suspects like MAP-21, WRRDA, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program, the Transportation and Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (TIFIA) Program, State Transportation Funding Packages, and Public Private Partnerships, all things which Committee officials apply specifically to freight transportation projects.
Considering the fact that on the highway funding side of things the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is projecting that the HTF will face a cash deficit of $126 billion over fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2023, the fact that this panel is being proactive and looking for long-term funding solutions is a good thing. It will be interesting to see what its findings are to say the least.
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