GOP senator introduces bill to create infrastructure bank

GOP senator introduces bill to create infrastructure bank
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Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle Steve King denied seat on Air Force One for Trump trip to Iowa: report Iowa Democrat calls foul on White House over Trump ethanol tour invite MORE (R-Neb.) has introduced legislation to create a national infrastructure bank as lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of federal transportation funding. 

The legislation, which has been dubbed the “Build USA Act,” would create a new infrastructure bank to provide funding for states to apply for loans at low interest rates. 

Under the proposal, states would return unused federal dollars from previous construction projects to provide a pool of funding for other projects. In exchange for agreeing to a participate in the program for a three-year period, states would receive greater control over their transportation projects and also have the ability to apply for low-interest federal loans for “core infrastructure projects.” 

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Fischer said the looming transportation funding deadline showed it was time for lawmakers to create a new system of addressing the nation’s infrastructure problems. 

“Our nation’s infrastructure is in need of repair and expansion,” she said in a statement. “As millions of Americans sit in endless traffic jams and travel over decaying bridges, our government continues to waste time and money. It is time to think outside the box and offer bold solutions that will stop this cycle and provide states with the flexibility to start rebuilding our core infrastructure.” 

Fischer’s legislation comes as lawmakers are facing a May 31 deadline for extending the current transportation funding measure that is scheduled to expire then. 

Lawmakers in both parties have expressed a desire to pass an extension of the infrastructure bill, but they are struggling to come up with a way to pay for it.  

The traditional source of transportation funding has been revenue from the federal gas tax since its inception in the 1930’s. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and has struggled to keep pace with construction costs as U.S. cars have become more fuel efficient. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in about $34 billion annually at its current rate. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the gap, but transportation advocates have complained the resulting temporary patches are preventing states from undertaking badly needed large construction projects. 

Transportation advocates have pushed Congress to increase the tax for the first time in two decades to pay for a long-term infrastructure funding extension, but lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump. 

Fischer said her bill to create an infrastructure bank would be a more viable solution to the transportation funding shortfall than increasing gas taxes. 

“My bill adheres to three important points: reduce regulatory burdens, redirect funding, and provide states with more authority to manage their highways and bridges,” she said. “Nebraska has gained successful results with this model and it’s time to bring best practices from our states to the national discussion. By letting our states manage these projects, we can get America moving safely and securely for decades to come.”

The Department of Transportation has said that its Highway Trust Fund will have to stop making payments to state governments for construction projects that are already underway if Congress does not come to an agreement on an extension in the next couple of weeks.