Foxx: Obama, GOP close on transport funding

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Thursday that it was a "big deal" that President Obama and Republican leaders in the House released similar proposals to increase the amount of money that is spent on infrastructure projects this week. 

Obama unveiled a proposal for a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that he said could be paid for with $150 billion in savings from closing corporate tax loopholes, in addition to revenue collected by the federal gas tax. 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) also released a proposed tax reform bill on Wednesday that included provisions redirecting $126.5 billion to transportation projects.

Speaking at a meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Foxx said he was optimistic that a deal on road and transit funding could be reached between on the parties. 

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"It's a big deal to have folks like [House Transportation Committee] Chairman [Bill] Shuster [(R-Pa.)], Sen. [Barbara] Boxer [(D-Calif.)], [House Ways and Means Committee] Chairman [Dave] Camp [(R-Mich.)] and their ranking members seriously talking about a way to go forward here, particularly in light of the crisis that's looming in the Highway Trust Fund," Foxx said.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money as early as August of this year without congressional action.

The trust fund is normally filled with revenue that is collected via the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax. Receipts from the fuel levy have been falling short by about $20 billion per year, however, because newer cars are getting better gas mileage and Americans have been driving less often in recent years. 

The current transportation appropriations bill that is scheduled to expire in September contains more nearly $55 billion per year in road and transit spending, compared to the approximately $34 billion that is brought in annually by the gas tax.

Transportation advocates have pushed Congress to increase the gas tax or replace it with a more viable funding source to avoid a repeat of the current shortfall.

Foxx told AASHTO that it was important for now to find the money for a longer transportation proposal.

"Projects can't get done under a cloud of uncertainty," Foxx said of the current infrastructure funding situation.

"It's a challenge for project sponsors to make long-term plans when Washington's giving you short-term funding solutions," the DOT chief continued. 

Foxx added that it would cost more in the long run if lawmakers choose not to act on the transportation funding problem they were facing now.

"When we don't get these projects done that are out there, on the books, ready to go around the country, we actually end up spending more money, because when we get back to those projects, which inflation and other elements, those projects become more expensive," he said.

Foxx asked AASHTO members to help with "reminding Congress that the most fiscally responsible thing is to get the Highway Trust Fund stabilized."

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