By Dave Bauer
ARTBA Executive Vice President of Advocacy
If you think 2017 was one of the most unpredictable years in recent political history—and it was—2018 looks to be all that and more. The dynamics that made last year so contentious remain in play, and the November midterm election to decide control of Congress will add more sharp turns and speed to this national roller coaster ride.
Those dynamics also provide opportunities to pursue a permanent solution for the Highway Trust Fund’s (HTF) revenue shortfall and a robust infrastructure investment package.
Despite non-stop chaos and fever-pitch partisanship, Republicans in 2017 passed the first comprehensive reform of the U.S. tax code in 30 years. Many doubted such a lofty goal could be achieved by a divided party with narrow majorities in the House and Senate, but GOP congressional leaders had been laying the foundation for this measure for over three years.
Passing the tax law demonstrated major policy achievements are possible in the current environment. It also removed from legislative consideration two main issues the GOP promised to tackle—health care and taxes. With uncertainty about what comes next, President Donald Trump called on Congress to act on a historic infrastructure package during his recent State of the Union address.
The Trump administration wants to leverage $200 billion in direct federal investment into a total of $1.5 trillion in state, local and private sector infrastructure investments.
Half of the $200 billion will be dedicated to an initiative that is intended to incentivize new state and local investment by allowing the federal resources to count toward a maximum of 20 percent of the projects’ total cost. A quarter of the new federal funds would be dedicated to infrastructure improvements in rural areas. The proposal will also allot funds to support what the administration calls “transformative” projects, and grow a variety of federal credit assistance and financing programs.
Three key points to remember about the Trump proposal:
• the spending would be spread over 10 years;
• it is intended to support all manner of infrastructure improvements—not just transportation; and
• it is largely project specific as opposed to existing programs that provide states and local government recurring funds via a pre-determined formula.
It should also be noted the administration is promoting the removal of regulatory burdens faced by infrastructure projects as a key component of its proposal.
While the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan likely will not address the HTF’s structural revenue deficit, the two could be joined as the measure advances through the House and Senate. The combination of a mechanism that stabilizes and grows HTF revenue and the administration’s project-focused initiative could create a comprehensive package that benefits each state while providing separate resources and tools to advance all manner of infrastructure projects.
The president has changed the debate in Washington, D.C., from how to preserve the status quo to how best to address the nation’s growing infrastructure deficit. This debate is long overdue and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure Congress and the White House knows that a permanent HTF fix be the foundation of any infrastructure package.
ARTBA’s top priority in any infrastructure package has been and will continue to be a permanent revenue solution for the HTF that supports increased highway and public transportation investment.