Shuster: Obama, Camp transport proposals 'encouraging'

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster said he was "encouraged" by President Obama and Rep. Dave Camp's (R-Mich.) proposals for increasing transportation funding that were released earlier 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. 

Camp, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, also released a proposed tax reform bill on Wednesday that included provisions redirecting $126.5 billion to transportation projects.

After speaking at a meeting the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Shuster said that he was glad both the president and the House GOP's chief budget writer were offering proposals to increase road and transit funding this year.

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"I think it's very encouraging that the president and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee are both figuring out how to solve the [highway] trust fund situation," Shuster told reporters. "I haven't looked closely at what the president has [proposed]. I heard what he said, but I haven't looked at the details yet. And we're still trying to digest what Chairman Camp has out there, but we've still got some time and again I'm very encouraged." 

Shuster said it was important for elected leaders in both parties to begin raising awareness about the shortfall that exists within the federal government's Highway Trust Fund.

The fund, which is traditionally used to pay for road and transit projects, is forecasted to run out of money as early as August of this year. 

Shuster said Obama and Camp's proposals were important starters to a difficult conversation that needs to be had about transportation funding.

"The American people need to start hearing those things from you, from the president, from other areas to know that we've got to figure out how to do this to make the investments to keep our country competitive," he said.

The Highway Trust Fund has traditionally relied on money that is collected from the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax to fill its coffers. But the gas tax has not been increased since 1993 and an approximately $20 billion shortfall has developed between fuel levy receipts and the amount of transportation funding that is necessary.  

The most recent transportation appropriations bill that was passed by Congress in 2012 contained approximately $54 billion in road and transit funding before the sequester budget cuts took effect in 2013.

However, the gas tax typically only brings in about $34 billion per year.

Shuster told the state transportation officials' group that he was "taking a close look" at both Obama and Camp's proposals "to really figure it out."

"It's going to take us some time to fully understand it," Shuster told the group.

Shuster told reporters after he gave his speech to the group that he could accept any transportation funding proposal that did not increase the federal deficit.

"If it's paid for, if it's fiscally responsible, those are the things I'm looking for, and that's what it appears [to be]," he said.

Shuster said he would prefer for lawmakers to approve a long term, multi-year bill to avoid a quick repeat of the transportation funding issues that are cropping up now. 

But he said he would take any bill that was longer that current two-year transportation bill that is scheduled to expire in September.

"As long as we can get it," Shuster said when asked by The Hill to identify his preferred appropriations length.

"Whatever we can get passed," the Transportation Committee chairman continued. "More than two [years] is better." 

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