By Taylor McGinley

T&I Hearing Recap: The Cost of Doing Nothing

February 13, 2019

Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) held its first hearing of the 116th Congress, “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait.” New Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has long-awaited this opportunity and has wasted no time making his point to the public, and the Administration, that Americans need infrastructure investment now. Chairman DeFazio was joined by Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) who echoed a similar sentiment. See our live tweets from the hearing at @SUN_CTAA.

DeFazio began his opening remarks by noting the fact the Committee’s rooted in bipartisanship; highlighting his relationship with Ranking Member Graves, among the Committee members and the inherent unity of the issue. The bulk of the remarks were centered around DeFazio’s thoughts on ways to increase funding for the Highway Trust Fund. He believes the need is urgent and the most immediate solution would be to increase the federal gas tax. He stated, “Gas and diesel taxes that fuel the Highway Trust Fund have been stagnant for 25 years, causing purchasing power for road, bridge, and transit projects to fall by over 40 percent.” He’s been a long-time proponent of increasing the federal gas tax and will likely include a similar provision in a larger infrastructure package that is expected later this year. He mentioned that many Members are worried that voting in support of this proposed increase will cost them their job, however DeFazio reminded them that several of their colleagues had run on, and been elected, from communities that had raised local or state gas taxes.

Graves spoke next, offering opening remarks that also highlighted the bipartisanship nature of infrastructure and the opportunity to work with the Administration. “It’s rare that the stars align on issues,” said Graves, emphasizing the support infrastructure investment has across the aisle and with the President.

Upon the conclusion of opening remarks, DeFazio spoke again, firing off data to legitimize his call for investment. He discussed the costs of inaction; how increased costs are associated with maintenance projects that are completed later than needed. “Inaction has serious consequences and the cost of delay is high,” said DeFazio. He gave the example of the Hudson River rail tunnels, and how their failure would cost the U.S. economy $100 million a day. He also discussed traffic congestion and how it’ll only get worse with time, stating it will be a daily occurrence for 60 percent of the U.S. population within a decade.

[LaHood] argued for an infrastructure investment plan: raise the gas tax now and permanently index it to the cost of living. Coupled with public-private partnerships and, eventually, a tax based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

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the common ground of Transportation and Infrastructure

investment

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source: hart research

The hearing offered an impressive list of panelists: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Former USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood, along with Amtrak’s President and a number of others across the transportation/infrastructure industry.

LaHood arguably had the most in-depth testimony, most likely thanks to his years on the Committee and as USDOT Secretary. He argued for an infrastructure investment plan: raise the gas tax now and permanently index it to the cost of living. Coupled with public-private partnerships and, eventually, a tax based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT). He noted that whatever solution Congress comes to, it simply can’t just be increased tolling, added VMT or various types of partnerships. The solution must be a viable, substantive effort.

“When it comes to the gas tax, it is not a sustainable source of revenue and other options must be further explored and tested. A number of states have moved forward with pilot programs to test the feasibility of replacing the gas tax with a charge based on the mileage,” he said.

He also added to DeFazio’s previous remarks on the idea of politicians loosing their job if they vote to increase the gas tax. He agreed with DeFazio and stated that 26 states have raised their gas taxes since 2013 and no politician has lost for voting for increases.

A big takeaway from the hearing is that the Members are beginning to lay the foundation for the future discussions on whether they should institute an increased gas tax or VMT. Graves views VMT as a long-term, necessary switch for revenue gain within the Highway Trust Fund. He also believes VMT can be accomplished without introducing surveillance on personal privacy and security. DeFazio seems to lean more towards increasing the gas tax, however is open to other ideas on investment.

Whatever the solution may be, there was an agreement among the Members and witnesses that Congress needs to come up with a fix that is indexed and automatically adjusts with time. It’s also imperative that the new solution include vehicles using alterative fuel sources. As Larry Willis, President at the Transportation Trades Department, stated at the hearing, “As gasoline powered vehicles become more efficient and electric vehicles become more prevalent, contributions to the Highway Trust Fund will continue to dry up, leaving us back in the same position we are today.”

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.