Federal workers' union protests House plan to pay for roads

Federal workers' union protests House plan to pay for roads
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A union that represents employees of numerous federal agencies is criticizing a House plan to use revenue from customs fees and privatizing tax collections to pay for transportation projects. 

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) said the plans, which is included in a $325 billion highway bill that is set to be considered by the House next, are "ill-conceived." 

“NTEU believes that given the current economic climate, it is more important than ever that taxpayers deal with the IRS directly to work through any financial difficulties they may encounter," NTEU National President Tony Reardon wrote in a letter to members of the House Rules Committee on Friday. 

"Unlike the [private collection agencies], IRS employees have a variety of tools at their disposal with which they can help delinquent taxpayers meet their tax obligations, in particular, those facing financial difficulties,” Reardon continued.  

“Diverting Customs user fees would eliminate a critical funding stream that should be available to fund the hiring of 2,700 additional CBP Officers currently needed to fulfill CBP’s national security, law enforcement and trade and travel facilitation missions,” he wrote in a separate letter about the custom proposal. “These fees have been designated by statute to pay for services provided to the user, such as inspections for passenger and commercial vehicles.”

Lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a way to pay for multiyear extension of federal transportation funding without increasing the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. 

The fuel tax has traditionally been used to pay for federal highway bills, but it has not been increased since 1993 and it has struggled to keep pace with rising construction costs. The tax brings in about $34 billion per year at its current rate, but federal government typically spends about $50 billion annually on transportation projects. 

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap in recent years, but they have been forced to settle for a series of temporary highway funding patches that advocates say make it harder for states to plan large construction projects. 

The treasury employees union said Friday that Congress should look to other areas besides tax collections and custom fees to pay for roads, however. 

"Outsourcing tax collection work has been proven to be a waste of taxpayer dollars and it could unleash a fresh round of abuse on vulnerable taxpayers," the union said. 

The union added that the customs proposal would "divert…user fee revenue away from the intended purpose of enhancing border security."

The House is expected to consider the highway bill next week.