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AASHTO Journal

House T&I Leaders Mount Efforts to Boost Interest, Promote Ideas for Investment Plans

Leadership from both parties in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are pressing efforts to build momentum for strong investment legislation this year.

Those efforts include a new investment-focused website by the Republican majority, and a new letter to President Trump by the ranking Democrat spelling out his ideas to inject more funding into several major transportation sectors.

The committee majority on Feb. 6 launched a "Building 21" effort with a dedicated website it said was intended to help "focus attention on policies that will build a 21st century infrastructure."

It included separate video interviews with Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who discussed the federal role for investing in public works, and another with a group of T&I Republicans describing their ideas for modern-era transportation systems.

capitol0816.jpg Shuster in a press release also said: "America's infrastructure is the backbone of our economy and we must invest to meet the challenges of today while preparing for the opportunities of tomorrow. The '#building21' initiative is designed to explain our vision for America's infrastructure that promotes job creation, encourages economic development and prepares the nation for the breakthroughs in mobility that are around the corner."

Shuster added that in addition to the website the committee "will continue to hold hearings, listening sessions and roundtables throughout the Congress as part of our agenda to explore what system users, manufacturers and consumers need to truly develop an infrastructure and transportation network that is second to none."

The site also included a copy of a Jan. 31 Washington Post story that focused on the challenge of paying for infrastructure investments. In it, Shuster said ideas that have been discussed include repatriating foreign-held profits of U.S. companies, raising motor fuel taxes and tolling.

But Shuster described tolling of interstate highways as "a non-starter." He said talk of wooing private investors to finance projects is not likely to help the largely rural district he represents, and indicated he thinks states will need more federal funding as part of any package.

On Feb. 7, top T&I Democrat Peter DeFazio of Oregon wrote President Trump seeking administration support for three proposals he said "could be a critical part of your commitment to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure, without increasing the size of the budget deficit."

As earlier reported, DeFazio had summarized those ideas in a Feb. 1 committee hearing but had yet to list them in more detail until he did so in his letter to the president. DeFazio also told Trump he is developing legislation to implement each of the proposals.

His plan calls for Congress to index gasoline and diesel fuel taxes to construction cost inflation, capping the annual increase at no more than 1.5 cents a gallon, and using that gain to back annual issuance of 30-year bonds for highway and transit improvements.

DeFazio told Trump the fuel tax indexing would provide "more than $500 billion in infrastructure investment to improve the conditions of our nation's highways, bridges and public transit systems, address the federal underinvestment which has caused the current state-of-good-repair backlog, and address future highway and transit needs" through fiscal 2030.

The congressman also calls for spending all the accumulated balance in Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (about $9 billion) on harbor dredging and related projects, plus all annual receipts from the harbor maintenance tax on ship-carried imports.

And DeFazio wants Trump and the Congress to remove or increase a federal cap on how much airports can levy in a passenger facility charge on airfares. That step, he said, could pay for "safety-critical and expansion projects that will restore aging airports to their former glory – not to mention help them keep up with increasing demand – without increasing Americans' tax burden."

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