Advocates link Stanley Cup traffic delay to road funding

Advocates link Stanley Cup traffic delay to road funding
© Getty Images

Transportation advocates are pointing to delays in the delivery of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup championship trophy this week to highlight the need for Congress to pass a new round of federal infrastructure funding. 

The Stanley Cup was delayed reaching the home of the 2015 NHL championship winner, the Chicago Blackhawks, because of road closures that were attributed to severe weather on June 15, according to reports. 

Associated Equipment Distributors President Brian McGuire said Wednesday that the road closures that prompted the delay in the Stanley Cup reaching the winner of the NHL championship series showed the need for Congress to pass an extension of a transportation funding measure that is currently scheduled to expire on July 31. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“As key congressional committees examine solutions to restore certainty to the federal highway program, the holy grail of professional sports trophies, the Stanley Cup, was delayed by traffic from reaching the 2015 NHL champion Chicago Blackhawks; our inadequate roads and bridges have reached a new low," McGuire said in a statement.

"Our nation’s crumbling infrastructure has broad implications for the U.S. economy and international competitiveness, but it’s now impacted one of the sports world’s ultimate competitions," he continued. "Continued inaction is unacceptable and – like a Stanley Cup champion – bold, fearless leadership is required for America to once again have a winning surface transportation system.” 

Lawmakers are grappling with a shortfall in transportation spending that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year, and they have not passed an infrastructure package that lasts longer than two years since 2005.

The current transportation funding legislation, which is set to expire on July 31 after a two-month extension was approved last month, includes about $50 billion in annual spending on road and transit projects.

The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue collected from the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax. But the tax, which has not been increased since 1993, only brings in about $34 billion per year. 

Lawmakers have turned to other parts of the federal budget to fill the gap in recent years, but transportation advocates have complained the resulting temporary patches prevent states from completing long-term construction projects.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion to close the gap long enough to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill, which is the length that is being sought now by the Obama administration and transportation supporters.

Transportation supporters have pushed for a gas tax increase. They point out the federal gas tax would be about 30 cents per gallon now if it had been indexed to inflation in 1993.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump, and Republicans have ruled an increase a nonstarter.

"There’s not much happening in this economy to help it grow, but lower gas prices is one of them. Working families have been struggling for years to get by," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) said during a hearing on the transportation funding problem on Wednesday. 

"They’ve looked high and low for good-paying jobs," Ryan continued. "Their paychecks haven’t grown much at all. And now they’re finally catching a break. It would be downright unfair to take that away from them. So we are not raising gas taxes — plain and simple." 

Ryan has previously signaled he would prefer an alternative plan that would tax overseas corporate revenue to pay for a long-term transportation bill. The proposal, known as "repatriation," calls for giving business a reprieve from penalties for avoiding prior taxes if they agree to move money back to the U.S. and pay a 6.5 percent tax rate on it. 

The Obama administration has also embraced the repatriation proposal, but the president has argued tax on overseas profits should be mandatory and collected at a higher rate. 

Transportation advocates, meanwhile, tried to convince lawmakers Wednesday that a gas tax hike is most fair way to fix the transportation funding problem because it would preserve a system where drivers are charged for the upkeep of the roads that they use. 

“Increasing or creating new highway user fees is the most equitable, transparent, and effective approach to address the nation’s growing surface transportation infrastructure challenges,” the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) said in testimony that was submitted to the House Ways and Means Committee. 

“Unfortunately, scorecards from professional conservative lobbyists and misconceptions about the political concerns of increasing user fees are clouding this situation,” the road builders group continued.