DOT chief wants 'noisier' calls for funding

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Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx wants voters clamoring for lawmakers to approve a larger transportation funding bill than the $10.9 billion stopgap they passed last week.

Before their August recess began, lawmakers went down to the wire ahead of a potential Highway Trust Fund bankruptcy before they approved a temporary patch to extend funding until May.

Foxx said during an online town-hall event Wednesday that he hoped voters use the lawmakers' time in their home districts to push for a longer infrastructure funding package like the four-year, $302 billion bill the Obama administration has suggested.

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"I think the country needs to get a little noisier on this," he said.

Advocates in Washington have pushed for an increase in the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents per gallon and has been the traditional source of funding for transportation projects since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.

The gas tax has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) has said that its trust fund would have run short by about $16 billion without congressional intervention.

Lawmakers expressed sympathy for the transportation funding problem, but in the end, most were reluctant to increase the amount paid by drivers in the middle of an election year. Congress opted instead to pass the $10.9 billion bill that will extend transportation funding for about eight months.

Foxx asked voters on Wednesday to tell their elected representatives that they should not wait until the next deadline to approve a more permanent transportation funding solution.

"Engage your member of Congress on long-term funding, explain why we can't wait until May," he said. "You've got the facts. We've got a crisis. Let's do something with those facts."

The Obama transportation funding proposal calls for using approximately $150 billion from a closing corporate tax loopholes to help pay for road and transit projects in the U.S.

The tax reform proposal has stalled on Capitol Hill, however, and lawmakers are unlikely to revisit the issue when they return from their monthlong recess next month.

Instead of following President Obama's proposal, lawmakers relied largely on revenue from other areas of the federal budget, like "pension smoothing" and an increase in customs fees to pay for the stopgap.

Critics argued that lawmakers were taking money that was anticipated over a 10-year period to help pay for eight months of transportation spending, but lawmakers said that was preferable to allowing the transportation fund to go broke this month. 

Obama is expected to sign the temporary transportation funding soon.