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DOT Secretary Foxx rips Congress’s short-term extension as gimmicky “Band-Aid”

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
July 22, 2014

Even as Congress was putting the finishing touches on a 10-month short-term funding extension to the federal aid highway bill that temporarily averts a funding crisis, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was ripping the measure as a short-term “gimmick” that once again fails to adequately fund U.S. infrastructure needs in the long run.
 
“If this short-term patch passes, it will not be time to celebrate,” Foxx told the National Press Club in a July 21 speech, shortly before Congress was scheduled to start its five-week summer recess. “It’s hard to imagine Congress will not push the snooze button on this issue again until crunch time.”
 
The 10-month, nearly $11 billion authorization Congress was working on merely kicks the funding can down the road once again. This punt is the 27th short-term funding extension of the highway bill in the last five years—and Foxx warned these easy political fixes have to stop.
 
“Come May 2015, if we’re not careful, we’ll be right here again with the shot clock set to expire, looking for an easy solution to patches for a few more months, leaving the real conversation to another time,” Foxx said.
 
Backing President Obama’s “Grow America Act” that increases federal funding on transportation by $22 billion over four years, Foxx said these short-term fixes are “killing our transportation system softly,” and hurting the economic recovery.
 
Other officials, foreign and domestic, agree. Recently Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International called on the world’s most industrialized nations—including the U.S.—to step up public investment on infrastructure to help the fragile world economic recovery.
 
“In the current context of a weak growth outlook and low borrowing costs, a judicious stimulation of public investment can give growth the necessary impetus, above all in advanced economies,” Lagarde recently told an world economic conference in Aix-en-Provence, France.
 
Governors of both parties in the United States joined Foxx in ripping yet another short-term funding punt by Congress.

“It’s stupid is what it is,” Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy (D) recently told the Wall Street Journal. “If you can fix it (until May 2015), why can’t you fix it for a longer period of time? It’s brinksmanship.”
 
From the Republican side, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert echoed the same sentiment. He is hinting that it’s time to raise the federal tax on fuel—18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline, 24.4 cents on diesel, unchanged since 1993. “I think there needs to be some consideration about adjustments for inflation,” Herbert told the Journal.
 
In Washington, Foxx said Congress’s inaction on this issue is an embarrassment for both parties—and damaging to the nation as a whole.
 
“Until Congress passes a long-term bill, I’m urging the American people to say no more delays, no more gimmicks, no more short-term patches or Band-Aids,” said Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte, N.C. “Build our country, put us to work and get America moving again and help future generations move forward in the process.”

Foxx warned that if Washington continues to only think short term, it will endanger the economic recovery with an outdated transport system.
 
“If we’re only building for the present, we are building for the past,” he said. “That’s just the reality. It’s a sad commentary that we are, in effect, managing a declining system, a system that is crumbling before our eyes, a system that is growing potholes, a system that is creating longer commute time and a system that will cause us to lose jobs we have no business losing in America.”
 
At current spending levels, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, this country will fall almost $850 billion short of transportation funding needs by 2020.
 
“We need a transportation reset, and we need it big,” Foxx said. “We have 100,000 bridges old enough to qualify for Medicare.”
 
Compared to other industrialized countries, the U.S. is lagging way behind. In this country, we spend approximately 2 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on infrastructure. The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) estimates Canada invests 4 percent, Mexico 4.5 percent, Europe 5 percent, India 8 percent and China 9 percent on infrastructure.
 
“In short, our largest trading partners and competitors are investing at twice to five times the rate we are and beating us at the economic game we invented, business competition,” says Leslie Blakey, CACTC president and executive director, who applauded Foxx’s strong call for higher long-term infrastructure funding.
 
“Congress has been held hostage too long to the notion that our civil society must ‘live within our means.’” Blakey said. “Unfortunately, due to this way of thinking, the United States has in recent years refused to make even the bottom line investments needed to maintain our transportation infrastructure, much less fund expansions of capacity. In reality, we are living well below our means by failing to recognize the wisdom and necessity of investing for the future.”
 
Foxx said that these short-term funding fixes hamper longer-term planning for big infrastructure projects necessary for the nation’s competitiveness.
 
“Without planning, you can’t design a project,” Foxx said. “You don’t design it, you can’t engineer it. If you don’t engineer it, it doesn’t happen. If it doesn’t happen, there’s no relief. It’s a big, looming problem.”
In a symbolic display of bipartisanship on the issue, Foxx and 11 preceding DOT secretaries—covering 35 years of experience, from both parties—released a joint push for a long-term solution.

“Five of us serviced under Democratic presidents and seven of us served under Republican presidents,” said Foxx, a Democrat. “While I’m sure there are issues on which we may not all agree, there is one issue on which we are united. And that is for America to reach her potential, we have to have a long-term transportation investment pan and we need it as soon as possible.”

About the Author

image
John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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