Bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. House Thursday by Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) would index the current federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes to inflation to raise some $27.5 billion to ensure highway-infrastructure spending is funded for exactly 1.7 years, per the bill’s chief sponsors.
The Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act “provides a long-term solution to ensure the Highway Trust Fund, which will run out of money in less than 50 days, is sustainable,” stated Renacci and the bill’s primary co-sponsors, Reps. Reid Ribble (R-WI), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL). At this point, another 16 Congressmen— seven Republicans and nine Democrats— have also signed on as co-sponsors.
However, Renacci’s bill doesn’t stop at addressing the highway funding issue over the short haul. “To help reach a truly long-term funding solution,” the legislation would also put in place a bipartisan, bicameral Transportation Commission no later than Sept. 1, 2015m that would be “charged with determining a path forward for sustainable funding, and would be advised to consider all options.”
To ensure that a sustainable funding solution is adopted, the bill contains what Renacci called an “action forcing event” -- Congress will be required to enact the recommendations of the Transportation Commission, or any other funding mechanism that achieves at least three years of funding for the Highway Trust Fund, by Dec. 31, 2016.
If that doesn’t happen, the gas and diesel taxes will rise “to a level that would sustain the trust fund for a three-year period.” According to the bill’s sponsors, that trigger will serve as “incentive for Congress to get serious about funding our infrastructure during that time.”
That’s because if, by that point, Congress has failed yet again to implement long-term funding, then the gas and diesel user fees “would increase to meet the next five-year Highway Trust Fund shortfall, guaranteeing 10 years of funding.”
Apparently, the sponsors of the "Bridge Act" were not put off by the objection to hiking fuel taxes or any user fees that was publicly stated last month by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA).
“We refuse to pass on the liability of our deteriorating roads and bridges to our children and grandchildren,” said Renacci, Pascrell, Ribble and Lipinski in a joint statement. “The longer we wait to fix our crumbling infrastructure, the more it will cost in the long-run.
“We need to act now to fix the broken system,” they continued. “The users of our roads, workers, and state and local governments need the certainty that adequate and timely transportation program reauthorizations and funding provide. The Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act allows for the consideration of all viable options so that Congress can get serious about finding a long-term, sustainable solution for the Highway Trust Fund.”
Their measure has already gained the support of an array of stakeholder organizations, including AAA, AFL-CIO, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Trucking Associations, Associated General Contractors, Highway Users Alliance and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"Congress should avoid passing short-term extensions that are, today, putting people out of work and forcing states to cancel or delay critical projects necessary to save lives and address system maintenance and congestion needs,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA executive vice president, in a statement.
ASCE president Robert D. Stevens called the proposal’s indexing of the current federal motor fuels tax rate to inflation and using highway user-fees to continue to pay for surface transportation “common-sense funding solutions.” He noted that ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which awarded an overall D+ grade, “underscores the need to fix the Highway Trust Fund.”
“This legislation shows that some in Congress are willing to take on challenging issues that are vital to our continued economic growth,” observed Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of AGC. “The measure represents an important first step to resolving the funding challenges that have repeatedly threatened highway construction projects across the country for years now.”