Transportation chief presses for $478B highway bill

Lauren Schneiderman

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFeds require new safeguards for railroad employees Uber to spend M to meet demand during Metro maintenance Virginia gov threatens to withhold DC Metro funding MORE said it is still possible for Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill, though lawmakers already have begun talking about settling for a temporary patch. 

Foxx on Friday said Congress should take up the six-year, $478 billion "Grow America Act" proposed by President Obama when they return from their recess because it "looks beyond filling last winter's potholes and looks to building for the future.” 

Foxx said the president's proposal "provides six years of funding certainty, increased investment in infrastructure, and smart policies that ensure taxpayers get more bang for their buck and that communities can enjoy the benefits of projects sooner" in a blog post on the Transportation Department’s website. 

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“Experts all agree that America's transportation system needs more than a few potholes filled and bridges repaired,” he wrote. “But we also need to start getting ahead of the curve like the world leader we have been since George Washington began supervising construction of a canal along the Potomac River.” 

The White House would fund its proposal largely by taxing corporations' overseas profits through a process known as “repatriation.” 

Under the Obama plan, companies would be required to bring earnings that are currently stored overseas to the United States and pay a 14 percent tax rate on them. Administration officials say the proposal could generate an estimated $238 billion that could be used to pay for infrastructure improvements. 

The Obama proposal comes as lawmakers are struggling with how to replenish the DOT's Highway Trust Fund, which is used to pay for construction projects across the nation. 

The traditional source of transportation funding has been the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax that was established in the 1930s. The tax has not been increased since 1993, even as cars have become more fuel-efficient in recent years. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion.

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the $16 billion gap, and they are talking about passing another extension now to prevent a construction shutdown this summer.  

Foxx on Friday said Obama’s proposal would do more than just extend the federal government’s current level of transportation funding. 

“GROW does more than plug the looming hole in the Highway Trust Fund and the current transportation law, which expires at the end of next month,” he wrote. “For the first time in more than 30 short-term transportation extensions by Congress, GROW looks beyond filling last winter's potholes and looks to building for the future.” 

Lawmakers in both parties have expressed a desire to pass a long-term transportation funding bill this year, but consensus on a way to pay for it has been elusive. 

Foxx and other transportation advocates have said the repeated short-term measures have made it difficult for local governments to plan long-term construction projects. 

Republicans in Congress have said they are open to using tax revenue from oversees corporate profits to finance transportation projects, but they have expressed concerns about making the repatriation mandatory instead of voluntary.

GOP leaders have suggested it would be more effective to offer companies a one-time "tax holiday" to entice them to move money back to U.S. rather than forcing them to do it. 

Transportation advocates in Washington have meanwhile pushed for a gas tax increase to solve the infrastructure funding problem, but lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump.

Foxx said earlier this week that the federal government’s transportation funding will run out in July if lawmakers do not act.