Foxx: Senate transportation bill too small

Anne Wernikoff

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday that the Senate's version of a $302 billion transportation bill that has been proposed by President Obama does not contain enough funding for road and transit projects. 

Democratic leaders in the Senate are expected to release their version of the transportation funding reauthorization bill on Monday.

The upper chamber's leaders have said that their transportation bill would likely last six years and call for funding road and transit projects at the current level of approximately $50 billion adjusted for inflation.

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Foxx said during an appearance in the White House press briefing on Monday that people living in the U.S. were looking for a larger amount of infrastructure funding, however.

"I just spent the better part of a week going to eight states, 12 cities large and small. And I have to tell you that America has been waiting on a bigger solution," Foxx said when he was asked if the Obama administration could accept the Senate's proposed funding levels. 

"Whether I was in Louisville, Kentucky, or Anniston, Alabama, or Tallulah, Louisiana, or Dallas, Texas, all of these places in America are places that have long to-do lists," Foxx continued. "And our ability to support those to-do lists is being limited by the year."

Foxx was at the White House Monday to tout the president's proposal for a four-year, $302 billion transportation funding bill. Obama's proposal would include approximately $75 billion per year in road and transit spending.

Foxx said on Monday that the administration was pushing for approximately $25 billion more per year than the Senate is likely to propose because "America is hungry and starving for more infrastructure investment."

"We have a responsibility to articulate that as an agency, because America is growing, whether we're investing or not," the Transportation chief said.

The current transportation bill that is expiring in September includes about $50 billion per year for infrastructure after the 2013 sequestration budget cuts were factored in.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has said the upper chamber's bill will include about the same amount of funding, adjusting for inflation.

Boxer said last week that the upper chamber's bill would be enough to prevent a bankruptcy in the trust fund that is used to pay for federal road and transit projects that has been projected to occur at the end of this summer, even if it does not satisfy the Obama administration.

"This job-creating legislation provides the long-term funding certainty that states, cities, and businesses need while maintaining and improving the efficiency of the successful TIFIA program and establishing a formula-based freight program to improve the movement of goods on our surface transportation system," Boxer said of the soon-to-be released Senate bill in a statement released last week.

The current transportation funding measure, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has said that the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Highway Trust Fund will run out of money as early as August without quick congressional action.

Foxx said Monday that he was "encouraged by what we hear from the U.S. Senate," despite the disagreement on funding levels.

The House has not yet released its version of the transportation funding bill.

Transportation observers are watching Monday to see how the Senate Public Works Committee intends to pay for its transportation proposal.

Obama has proposed that lawmakers use approximately $150 billion from a corporate tax reform proposal that is considered unlikely to be approved to help close the transportation funding gap.

Some Democrats have pushed to increase the gas tax to approximately 33 cents per gallon, arguing that the fuel levy would be near that amount now if it had been indexed to inflation when it was last hiked in 1993.

Republicans and the Obama administration have opposed the idea of increasing the amount of money drivers have to pay at the pump when they fill up their gas tanks in an election year, however.

The transportation trust fund is usually filled with revenue that is collected from the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The gas tax has not been increased since 1993 and receipts are being outpaced by infrastructure expenses by an estimated $20 billion per year now, however.

The gas tax typically brings in about $34 billion per year, but the current transportation bill contained more than $54 billion in road and transit spending before the 2013 sequester budget cuts were factored in.

The CBO has projected that lawmakers will have to approve $100 billion in addition to the gas tax revenue to provide enough money to approve a six-year transportation bill this year.

Foxx said Monday that he believed the president's proposal was the best way to pay for new transportation projects and would allow for an increase in annual road and transit funding.

"Our bill is paid for by pro-growth tax reform and existing taxes," he said. "We support our bill." 

Transportation advocates have pushed for longer appropriation bill because they say state and local governments need more certainty of federal funding to complete large infrastructure projects that often take multiple years to complete.

The current transportation bill that is expiring in the fall was passed in 2012. The measure included only enough money for about 18 months of road and transit spending.

Foxx said he hoped lawmakers could reach an agreement soon because the projected bankruptcy in the Highway Trust Fund would turn rush hour into "rush all-afternoon."

The DOT chief said he was still optimistic about a deal being reached before the transportation funding runs out, however.

"This is a nine-inning game," he said. "It's not going to get solved in the first inning."

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