Fuel-Tax Bill to fix highway-funding shortage?

A bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Jim Renacci, a Republican from Ohio, would index the current federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes to inflation, leading to the collection of $27.5 billion. This increase would help ensure highway infrastructure spending is funded for 1.7 years, according to the sponsors.

This story first appeared at truckinginfo.com, and is designed to “provide a long-term solution to ensure the Highway Trust Fund, which will run out of money in less than 50 days, is sustainable,” said Renacci and the bill’s primary co-sponsors, Wisconsin Republican Representative Reid Ribble, New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell, and Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski.

The bill, dubbed the “Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act,” has the support of an additional 16 congressmen, who have all signed on as co-sponsors, among them 7 Republicans and 9 Democrats.

Renacci’s bill, over and beyond addressing the highway funding issue in the short term, works to reach a long-term solution to the issue. The legislation would also put into place a bipartisan, bicameral Transportation Commission by September 1, 2015, which would be “charged with determining a path forward for sustainable funding, and would be advised to consider all options.”

As part of the bill, in order to ensure the adoption of a sustainable funding solution, an “action forcing event” would require Congress to enact the recommendations of the Transportation Commission or any other funding mechanism that achieves the last three years of funding for the Highway Trust Fund by December 31, 2016.

The story goes on to say if that does not happen, the gas and diesel taxes will rise “to a level that would sustain the trust fund for a three-year period.” The bill’s sponsors also way that trigger would become an “incentive for Congress to get serious about funding our infrastructure during that time.” This is because if Congress has not yet implemented a long-term funding solution by that point, the gas and diesel user fees “would increase to meet the next five-year Highway Trust Fund shortfall,” guaranteeing 10 years of funding.”

The “Bridge Act” sponsors did not seem put off by the objection to raising fuel taxes or user fees that were publicly introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, the story continues, quoting the bill’s co-sponsors in the below statement.

“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.”

Several groups have already come out in support of the bill, 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.

The President of ASCE, Robert D. Stevens, called the bill’s indexing of the current fuels tax rate to inflation, and using highway user-fees to continue to pay for surface transportation are both a “common-sense funding solutions,” and noted that the poor overall D+ grade the nation received from ASCE on their “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” underscores the need for a fix for 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.”