Road builders: 67 percent of transport initiatives approved

Road builders: 67 percent of transport initiatives approved
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The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) is touting a 67 percent success rate of the transportation ballot initiatives that were before voters in Tuesday’s election. 

The Washington, D.C.-based group said that 60 of 90 ballot questions that were related to transportation funding were approved in Tuesday, despite overwhelming gains in many areas of the country for Republicans who campaigned on reducing government spending. 

The group said the measures that were approved on Tuesday would generate $21 billion in transportation revenue. 

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ARTBA President Pete Ruane said Wednesday that the election results showed voters want Congress to address transportation funding at the federal level quickly in the next Congress. 

“These election results show, once again, the public wants our government to invest in our mobility and safety and are willing to pay for it,” he said in a statement. 

“It doesn’t make a difference whether it is a Republican- or Democratic-leaning state,” Ruane continued. “The newly-elected Congress and the White House must take note and do their job and permanently fix the Highway Trust Fund. Transportation funding cannot remain frozen in the ice of political inertia and partisanship. The states rely on federal funds for, on average, 52 percent of their highway and bridge capital investments.”

Transportation advocates have pushed Congress hard to approve a multi-year transportation bill, but lawmakers have struggled to find a way to close an approximately $15 billion gap in annual road and transit funding that has developed in recent years. 

The normal funding source for transportation projects is revenue that is collected by the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and it is struggling to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars become more fuel efficient. 

The last multi-year transportation bill that was approved by Congress, in 2012, included approximately $50 billion per year in road and transit spending, but the gas tax is only bringing in about $34 billion per year. 

The Obama administration sent Congress a proposal for a four-year, $302 billion renewal of the 2012 transportation bill it said could be paid for with revenue that would be generated from closing corporate tax loopholes. Congress largely ignored the proposal, however, choosing instead to approve only an approximately $11 billion temporary extension to cover the transportation shortfall until next May. 

Some transportation advocates have suggested that Congress might consider a gas tax hike to pay for a new highway bill in the upcoming lame duck now that Republicans are set to take control of the Senate in January. 

Movement on the gas tax during the lame duck session would of course allow newly-elected Republicans to avoid taking blame for increasing prices at the pump by blaming defeated Democrats for insisting on the hike during the final weeks of the current congressional session, the thinking goes. 

President Obama identified transportation funding as an area he could potentially compromise with Republicans in a post-election press conference on Wednesday. 

“We all agree on the need to create more jobs that pay well,” Obama said. “Traditionally, both parties have been for creating jobs rebuilding our infrastructure -- our roads, bridges, ports, waterways. I think we can hone in on a way to pay for it through tax reform that closes loopholes and makes it more attractive for companies to create jobs here in the United States.” 

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFive issues that will define the months until the midterms  Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE (R-Ky.) made no mention of transportation list in a similar potential lame duck session to-do list he offered during a press conference of his own, however. 

“We've been talking about whether to do a [continuing resolution],” McConnell said. “We'll be talking about whether to do the tax extender package. There are a number of things that have sort of stacked up. 

“I think I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Senate hasn't been doing anything,” he continued. “So there's a whole lot of unfinished business sitting there, some of which it might be advantageous to get out of the way. Democrats may want to do it. We may want to do it in order to clear off some of the necessary work that's been undone in the dysfunctional Senate.”