Infrastructure is all the talk of the town, but will lawmakers be able to reach a consensus in the next Congress?
As we enter the 116th Congress, and with Democrats holding the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and Republicans holding the majority in the U.S. Senate, one major policy topic of debate is how to solve our nation’s aging infrastructure problem. Capitol Hill lawmakers are strategizing the best method towards developing an infrastructure plan that can reinvigorate the economy, while debating how to pay for such a large capital expenditure. Thus far, NASBP has had the opportunity to meet with some newly elected House members, including Angie Craig (D-MN-2), Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-2), Dusty Johnson (R-SD-AL), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-7), and Mike Waltz (R-FL-6), all of whom have shared their commitment to enacting an infrastructure spending package, while some of those newly elected members are vying for the opportunity to serve on the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee. In the next Congress, the T&I Committee will be chaired by Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4), who is well-known for his policy expertise relating to surface transportation and infrastructure. On the other side of the aisle, Congressman Sam Graves (R-MO-6) was recently named Ranking Member. NASBP has enjoyed a great working relationship with Congressman Graves in his past role as Chairman of the House Small Business Committee and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
In January, Chairman DeFazio plans to pursue a bipartisan package that includes a new surface transportation bill and a separate infrastructure package. Chairman DeFazio and House Ways & Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA-1), both have expressed support for the creation of an infrastructure subcommittee on Ways & Means to be chaired by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), which will be tasked with creating a funding plan. However, creating a new subcommittee would require a House rules change as Ways & Means is already maxed out with five subcommittees. Congressman Blumenauer supports raising gas/diesel taxes and exploring a road usage charge as an alternative to the gas tax, for hybrid vehicles, which Oregon and Utah have already adopted.
Not to be left out, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) conducted a hearing on November 28 titled “Addressing America’s Surface Transportation Infrastructure Needs.” Testifying before EPW were Carlos M. Braceras, President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation; Robert Lanham, Vice President of the Associated General Contractors of America and President of Williams Brothers Construction Company; and James Corless, Executive Director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. Chairman John Barrasso’s (R-WY) opening remarks noted that 2018 had been a “banner year” for passing infrastructure legislation in a bipartisan manner, which included the reauthorization of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Brownfields Program, the Water Resources Development Act, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Chairman Barrasso believes the bipartisan successes can be replicated for a surface transportation and infrastructure bill as well.
According to the Chairman, “Our surface transportation infrastructure drives the health, well-being, and prosperity of the nation. We depend upon highways, roads, and bridges to move people and goods, to get to our jobs, and to visit our loved ones.” However, the Chairman noted that funding will be key to pass a major surface/infrastructure spending bill. As the Chairman stated, “new funding is needed to keep pace with demands, and burdensome federal regulations have slowed efforts to spend money efficiently. The time has come to cut red tape and to make significant investments in our roads and bridges—investments necessary to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.”
All three witnesses mentioned in their testimony the importance of working now on reauthorizing the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act to ensure a smooth transition upon the Act’s expiration on September 30, 2020, without the need for disruptive extensions of the program and to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Furthermore, the witnesses all recognized the need to address the shortfall of the HTF, which Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) referred to as the “800-Pound Gorilla” during his opening statement. In this sworn testimony, Robert Lanham, AGC Vice President, noted that increasing the motor fuels tax is the simplest and most effective way to achieve this goal, but several other viable revenue alternatives exist. According to his testimony, AGC believes the HTF revenue construct must include the three following elements: 1) a reliable, dedicated, and sustainable revenue source derived from the users and the beneficiaries of our surface transportation system; 2) resources sufficient to end the chronic shortfalls and support increased investment; and 3) dedication solely to surface transportation improvements. The hearing transcripts are accessible for your reference.
NASBP will keep the membership apprised of surface transportation and infrastructure activities and other issues of significance to the surety industry as they unfold during the 116th Congress, of which the first session will convene on January 3, 2019.