Dem presses for 'meaningful increase' in road spending

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Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) is pushing for a "meaningful increase" in federal highway spending as the House gets ready to mark up a long-term transportation funding bill next week. 

GOP leaders in the House scheduled a highway bill markup hearing on Oct. 22, just days before the scheduled expiration of the nation's infrastructure spending.

Delaney said Thursday that the measure should drastically increase the amount of money the federal government spends on transportation projects. 

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"As you work to bring a draft of a Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for a mark-up, I encourage you to start from the premise that continuing baseline funding levels will only lead to a further deterioration of our already failing infrastructure," he wrote in a letter to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.). 

"Public investment in infrastructure, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, has fallen 54% since 1960. Instead of continuing our glide path to a third-world infrastructure, our next highway bill should reverse course and start our infrastructure comeback," Delaney continued. "A meaningful increase in our infrastructure investment will create millions of jobs and help our businesses stay competitive in the global economy." 

Congress is facing an Oct. 29 deadline for renewing a temporary transportation funding bill that was approved by lawmakers in July. 

Delaney has introduced a bill, known as the Infrastructure 2.0 Act, that calls for using revenue from corporate tax reform to pay for several years' worth of roads and transit projects.  

Delaney's bill would pump $170 billion into the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund, which is normally filled with gas tax revenue, over the next six years. The money would be used to close a shortfall in federal transportation funding that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year. 

The measure would also set aside $50 billion to fund the creation of a national infrastructure bank that Delaney's office said would attract $750 billion in private investment in U.S. transportation projects. 

Delaney touted his plan, known as repatriation, as the answer to the shortfall that has bedeviled lawmakers for a decade. 

"While many have focused squarely on the importance of increasing funding, we should also take this opportunity to create a new, large-scale infrastructure financing entity that will make cheaper financing available to states and local municipalities for decades to come, not just for the next few years," he wrote.  

"Availability of cheap, long-term financing is absolutely necessary to begin the many long-term infrastructure projects we need to get our economy on-track for increased global competitiveness," Delaney continued. "If we want to address our infrastructure crisis, we have to go big and baseline funding just won’t get us there. We can grow jobs, grow our economy, and make our businesses more competitive." 

Transportation advocates have complained that Congress has not passed an infrastructure measure that lasts longer than two years since 2005 due to the highway funding shortfall.

The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue that is collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently set at 18.4 cents per gallon. The gas tax brings about $34 billion per year, but the federal government typically spends about $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase to help make up the difference, but Shuster and other Republicans have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump

Delaney said in his letter that "there's a bipartisan coalition ready to support increased infrastructure investment" in the form of his repatriation plan.

The Department of Transportation has warned that it will have to begin cutting back on payments to states and local governments for infrastructure projects in November if Congress does not reach an agreement on a highway bill extension this month.