Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee January 28 heard from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Governors Robert Bentley (R-Ala.) and Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.), and South Dakota Secretary of Transportation Darin Bergquist about how continued uncertainty of federal highway and transit funds are undermining efforts to improve the nation’s transportation network. Foxx reminded senators that Tennessee has already postponed $400 million in projects due to repeated Highway Trust Fund revenue shortfalls and warned other states will follow over the coming months. Foxx repeatedly emphasized that maintaining current levels of investment—an approach all too often embraced on Capitol Hill by both parties—is woefully insufficient. In reference to the challenges of growing Highway Trust Fund revenues, Foxx told senators: “To hell with the politics.”
The state officials all emphasized the importance of a reliable federal partner in maintaining and improving the nation’s surface transportation network and reiterated that states cannot do this job on their own—a clear rebuke of those on and off Capitol Hill who continue to peddle the fallacy eliminating the federal role in funding transportation improvements and shifting the entire burden to state governments.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Committee Ranking Democrat Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) underscored the need to develop a bipartisan plan to generate the resources needed to support a long-term surface transportation bill. Senator David Vitter (R-La.) told his colleagues he saw three potential paths forward: an increase in the federal motor fuels tax that is “paired with a lower-middle class and middle-class tax cut;” transferring revenue raised from repatriating overseas profits of U.S. corporations to the trust fund—a proposal he noted would not be “a truly permanent solution;” and allocating royalties raised from increased domestic energy production to the trust fund.
The EPW hearing formally launches efforts in the new Congress to produce a long-term surface transportation bill and senators clearly demonstrated they know the first step in that process is increasing Highway Trust Fund revenue.