DOT chief launches bus tour to push for transport funding

Anne Wernikoff

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is launching a national bus tour to push lawmakers to approve a new round of road and transit funding.

The bus tour comes as lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to approve new transportation funding before the current legislation expires. Additionally, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that the transportation department’s Highway Trust Fund will go bankrupt as early as August without congressional action.

The DOT said Foxx will travel to eight states next week to “make the case for a robust multiyear federal investment as proposed by the Obama Administration that will address the current shortfall and meet the country’s future needs, all without adding to the deficit.” 

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“Throughout our history, Americans have always been able to leave their children a brighter future, thanks in part to the opportunities transportation has provided,” Foxx said in a statement. “Right now, we are failing our children. We need to not only invest in America, but commit to the future — not only rebuild and repair our roads and bridges, but expand opportunities and economic growth for generations to come.”

Foxx’s bus tour is scheduled to begin in Columbus, Ohio, and end in Dallas.

The DOT chief will be making the case for President Obama’s proposal for a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that the president has said can be paid for in part with a $150 billion cash infusion into the Highway Trust Fund from corporate tax returns.

Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a proposal of their own to avoid the transportation funding bankruptcy projected for the fall.

The coffers of the Highway Trust Fund have traditionally been filled by revenue from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. Receipts from the fuel levy have been outpaced by transportation expenses by about $20 billion per year in recent years, however.

The gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, currently brings in about $34 billion per year. However, the transportation bill that is expiring in September included more than $50 billion in annual road and transit spending, which advocates say is barely enough to scratch the surface of the nation’s infrastructure needs. 

The CBO has projected that lawmakers would have to provide $100 billion above the amount expected to be brought in by the gas tax over the next couple of years to pass a six-year transportation bill, which is the length of time being sought by infrastructure advocates.

Lawmakers were only able to cobble together enough money to pass a two-year bill, when they approved the expiring transportation measure in 2012. The measure was much shorter than prior transportation bills, to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates.

Obama and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), have proposed to use money from corporate tax reform to pay for a new transportation bill. Obama has called for transferring $150 billion to the Highway Trust Fund to fund a four-year infrastructure bill, while Camp has suggested transferring $125 billion.

Lawmakers in the Senate were scheduled to make an announcement about transportation funding Thursday morning.

The lawmakers were not expected to discuss specific funding amounts, however.

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