Washington infrastructure event provides many questions, few answers

February 6, 2014

ShusterPortraitFinancial software, data and media company Bloomberg hosted an infrastructure event in Washington this week, and while the event provided a forum to frame the issue from multiple perspectives, it remains clear that Congress is far from a consensus on many aspects of a funding plan.

Pennsylvania Congressman Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said he favors moving toward a vehicle miles-traveled (VMT) tax to fund a highway program. He is not in favor of raising the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax, which hasn’t been increased since 1993.

Although a VMT approach would more accurately assess the costs for using transportation assets, others balk at the idea of tracking the number of miles that people travel in order to assess the levy.

Still others, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former PA Gov. Ed Rendell, believe the gas tax should be raised immediately. Rendell called for raising it by 10 cents and indexing it to inflation.

congress progressCalifornia Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, supports replacing the gas tax with a tax paid on oil at refineries. The recently passed Pennsylvania Transportation Funding Act took a similar approach, eliminating the flat tax levied at the pump and replaced it by uncapping a tax paid at the wholesale level.

Boxer believes her approach would fund a six-year program, but there is also a lack of consensus on how long the next funding measure should be. Shuster, the Chamber and the construction industry want a five or six-year bill, as opposed to the two-year bill that expires Sept. 30. Others doubt that a divided Congress would go for a lengthy funding program.

“In Pennsylvania, we discovered that people care less about the mechanisms for raising the funds than they do about the fundamental question of ‘how much this will cost me,’” said PHIA Managing Director Jason Wagner. “A majority of Pennsylvanians felt that $2.50 per week was a reasonable investment for improving safety and relieving congestion, and that’s what our funding act will cost after five years.

“To their credit, a majority of our General Assembly members decided not to let differing ideas become an excuse for inaction. Essentially, they took care of about half of Pennsylvania’s funding gap. The question is what it will take for Congress to do its part and meet us halfway.”

Representatives of the Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition will travel to Washington later this month for a first-hand look at that question.

For a Bloomberg News account of this week’s event in Washington, click here.


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