Proposed DOT FY 2015 budget draws mixed reactions from industry stakeholders
March 06, 2014 - LM Editorial
Myriad components of President Barack Obama’s recent call for increased transportation infrastructure investments were included in the White House’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget, which was released this week.
The requested budget includes $90.9 billion for the United States Department of Transportation, which was soundly endorsed by DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, whom said that the requested funds will lay a new foundation for economic growth and competitiveness by addressing the nation’s growing infrastructure deficit, making investments into the national infrastructure network, and increasing safety and efficiency.
Among the transportation infrastructure-related aspects of the transportation budget proposal is a four-year, $302 billion transportation reauthorization bill, which would be paid for, in part, by using $150 billion in one-time transition revenue from pro-growth business tax reform “to address the funding crisis facing our surface transportation programs and increase infrastructure investment. This amount is sufficient to not only fill the current funding gap in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), but increase surface transportation investment over current projected levels by nearly $90 billion over the next four years.
DOT said that the $302 billion tally includes: $199 billion to rebuild U.S. roads and bridges; $72 billion to meet transit demand; $8 million to support and Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Center to expedite federal approval and permitting processes across government; $63 billion to fill the funding gap in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to meet the nation’s short-term highway, bridge, and transit needs and address the HTF’s insolvency for four years.
Also included were $10 billion for a new freight program to augment U.S. exports and trade in the form of a multimodal freight grant program in partnership with state and local officials and private sector labor representatives for rail, port, and highway projects addressing the “greatest needs for the efficient movement of goods across the country and abroad”; $4 billion to attract private investment in transportation infrastructure, calling for continued funding of $1 billion in annual credit subsidy for the successful TIFIA loan program that, similar to other Administration proposals such as capitalizing a National Infrastructure Bank, creating American Fast Forward bonds, or enacting Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) reforms, will facilitate increased private investment in transportation infrastructure while protecting taxpayer interests; and The proposal $5 billion over four years for an expanded TIGER program.
“President Obama has offered the kind of aggressive transportation budget our country needs – one that replenishes the Highway Trust Fund today while also helping ensure the country has a safe, efficient transportation system for tomorrow,” said Secretary Foxx. “These funds will do everything from helping communities tackle their transportation to-do lists to improving access to ladders of opportunity. And we will do everything at the Department of Transportation to make this budget a reality, including sending a bill to Congress to support it.”
When President Obama initially made his case for increased transportation infrastructure investment, Leslie Blakey, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for America’s Gateways and Corridors said the White House is on the right track with this focus, especially the $10 billion for a multimodal freight grant program.
“It is in line with what we have been asking for in the past,” she said. “And the fact that Congress has been increasingly recognizing that things like this are really critical to fund, coupled with the Administration taking the lead and setting funding goals and thinking about it in a different way is evidence of good collaboration.”
But not all concerns are sold on the proposal.
The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) had mixed feelings, explaining that while increased infrastructure funding is on the table, funding for the Corps of Engineers’ modernization and maintenance programs was decreased and the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant program was eliminated. AAPA also expressed disappointment in that the budget does not include the Port Security Grant Program, which the White House wants to replace with a National Preparedness Grant Program managed by states.
And on a more positive note, AAPA said it supported increasing funds for and sustaining the TIGER grant program for rail, highway and port projects that it said would seek to address the greatest needs for the efficient movement of goods across the country and abroad.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) blasted the White House plan, saying that it does not recognize the realities of freight and passenger transportation and lacks any type of long-term stability for transportation funding.
ATA Chairman Phil Byrd explained that finding a long-term, sustainable way to improve U.S. roads and bridges is a top priority for the ATA.
“Using the proceeds from corporate tax reform, while creative, does little to address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund or to uphold the principle of users paying for the services they get, in this case, the federal fuel tax, which has not been adjusted in more than two decades to account for inflation and improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency,” said Byrd. “The fuel tax is, and will continue to be the most efficient and fair way of collecting revenue for highways and bridges and should be adjusted to reflect current economic conditions and needs.”
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