DOT chief expects 'rough' transport funding fight

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Monday said he expects a tough fight in Congress this year over funding for infrastructure.

Foxx and President Obama are pushing Congress to enact a four-year $302 billion road and transit appropriations bill before current funding runs out in August or September.

Foxx said during a question-and-answer session after a speech to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) that the transportation community will likely face a lot of uncertainty between now and the resolution to the funding impasse. 

"I tell my team that I fully expect the next several months to be, to use a golf term, playing in the rough a lot," Foxx said. "But part of what we want to see happening, not just in the DOT four corners, but on Capitol Hill, is moving the discussion from whether we're going to get to yes, to how we're going to get to yes."

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The pot of money that is traditionally used to pay for transportation projects is in the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund. But that fund is being projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to run out of money by the fall.

The Highway Trust Fund's coffers are usually filled with revenue collected from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, but transportation spending levels have outpaced receipts from the fuel levy by about $20 billion a year.

Foxx told the transit group Monday that there were "encouraging signs" in the response of Republican leaders to President Obama's proposal to use $150 billion from closing corporate tax loopholes to close the transportation funding gap.

"The same day that we unveiled the president's proposal in St. Paul, Minnesota … Dave Camp, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, also unveiled a corporate tax reform proposal," Foxx said. "And so it appears that there's at least bipartisan interest in that mechanism."

Foxx warned the transit officials who were gathered in Washington for their annual conference that the deal for a new round of transportation funding was far from sealed.

"There are obviously questions about whether the timing all works out," he said. "But I've been in close, very close touch with Chairman Shuster, with Sen.r Boxer and other leaders on this issue, and I have high level of confidence that Congress understands that we're at a crisis point. But I don't know that there is a 50-plus-1 solution at this moment, particularly on the House side at the moment, to be honest with you."

Foxx encouraged the transit officials to tell Congress "how the, you know, year-to-year uncertainty, the sequestrations, the shutdowns — tell them how this stuff is affecting our ability to do what everybody, Republicans and Democrats, want to do, which is to build our country and make it as strong as possible and competitive as possible in the future."

"We can't do it after years and years of accumulated deferred maintenance," Foxx said. "We just can't do it again. So stop the Band-Aids, and let's move forward. That's what we need you to say."