Rep. Bill Shuster, Chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I), who is retiring from Congress this fall, released a draft infrastructure proposal this past week. Initially intended to be a bi-partisan concrete legislative counter to the President’s $1.5 infrastructure initiative introduced earlier this year, Shuster’s plan is more symbolic in nature given that he is its only sponsor and since he is not planning any hearings on it for the remainder of his term. Shuster himself characterized it as a “discussion draft that does not represent a complete and final infrastructure bill.”
Despite the fact that it will not go anywhere legislatively this session, the draft is nonetheless being considered by many in Washington as a partial blueprint for how Congress might approach the infrastructure issue next session. In that regard, the GCA is pleased that a number of the issues we have pressed the administration and Congress to include in an infrastructure package are actually included in Shuster’s proposal. The biggest of those issues has been the looming 2020 insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HF) which provides the federal share of virtually all the highway and transit projects our members build in the region. Shuster suggests new funding streams that would prevent such a debacle.
Specifically, the proposal would:
- Increase the gas tax over a three-year period from the current 18.3 cents/gal. to 33.3 cents/gal. and indexes it for inflation going forward. Combined with eliminating other exemptions and imposing new taxes on battery powered vehicles and bicycle tires, this would generate $284 billion in new gross revenues for the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) over the next ten years. With an anticipated HTF shortfall of $161 billion through 2028, the plan would actually net an additional $123 billion in HTF resources over the next decade for highway and transit projects.
- Create a 15-member blue-ribbon commission to recommend future long-term HF solvency proposals; recommendations would get an automatic up or down vote in Congress.
- Provide a one-year “clean” extension of the FAST Act so that there would be time for the panel to do its work and make constructive recommendations.
- Make permanent the BUILD (formerly TIGER) discretionary program.
- Codify the “One Federal Decision” project delivery reforms and permitting, as well as a two-year time limit to complete federal permits for infrastructure projects. Along with other initiatives in the plan, it which would provide the type of consistency across federal modes in terms of reviewing EISs and Categorical Exclusions, issues that has been on the top of the GCA federal agenda for the last few years.
- Direct USDOT to establish a two-year pilot program for national vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee program.
- Provide $500 million per year for “projects of national significance,” controlled by Congress and reopens ever so slightly the ability for Congress to provide earmarks for worthy projects.
- Reauthorize the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) that provides credit assistance for water infrastructure projects.
- Align federal spending on water transportation projects with annual Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund revenues—which currently exceed spending levels.
The GCA will continue to press our issues when the new Congress convenes next year and overall will hope that many of the ideas contained in this proposal will be included.
The outline of the plan can be found at: https://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/section_by_section_.pdf