Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 30, 2015

Posts in "Budget"

January 30, 2015

Overseas Cash Alluring Idea For Infrastructure Funds

Rep. John Delaney, D - Md., during his 2012 campaign. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. John Delaney, D – Md., during his 2012 campaign. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In his Fiscal Year 2015 budget last March, President Obama said he wanted to use “one-time transition revenue resulting from business tax reform” to pay for highways, roads and transit systems.

Now Rep. John Delaney, D- Md., has introduced a bill that fills in details of a concept about which Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, and several others have been thinking aloud: pay for infrastructure with tax revenue from repatriated profits of U.S. corporations.

But Delaney said his bill is “much more comprehensive” than what Obama sketched out last March.

Delaney’s measure would impose an 8.75 percent tax on overseas profits and would, he said, raise $170 billion, more than enough to both fill the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund for six years and to create a new $50 billion infrastructure funding entity.

It would also give Congress what he called “a nice long runway” for lawmakers to devise ways to cope with the anticipated decline in revenues from taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.

Full story

January 29, 2015

Governors Float Plan To Replace Notorious Bridge

President Obama speaks to a crowd in front of the aging Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River  in 2011 as part of his campaign for a job creation bill. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

President Obama speaks to a crowd in front of the aging Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River in 2011 as part of his campaign for a job creation bill. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

When a politician’s theme of the day is “aging infrastructure,” the default backdrop for the photo op is often the obsolete and overcrowded Brent Spence Bridge which connects Covington, Ky. and Cincinnati, Ohio.

On Wednesday Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a Republican, offered a plan to revamp the existing bridge, build a new bridge, and improve interstate approaches to the spans which cross the Ohio River.

The plan calls for:

  • Using a public-private partnership to design, build, maintain, and finance the project.
  • Splitting costs and toll revenues evenly between Ohio and Kentucky.
  • Providing a 50 percent discount in toll rates for frequent commuters.

According to governors’ statement, inflation is driving up the project’s cost (currently $2.6 billion) by $7 million every month.

Full story

January 28, 2015

Blizzard Economics Creates Winners And Losers

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The blizzard that hit parts of the Northeast Tuesday may have been a bit of bust for New York City (9.8 inches in Central Park) and led to charges that Gov. Andrew Cuomo over-reached by ordering roads and mass transit to be shut down at 11pm Monday.

But the nor’easter dumped a lot of snow on places such as Southampton, N.Y. (29 inches) and Groton, Conn. (24 inches).

And according to the U.S. Travel Association, the cancelled flights cost the economy $230 million in passengers’ lost activity.

Each cancelled domestic flight costs the economy $31,600, according to a formula U.S. Travel researchers developed. The estimate is based on airline traffic and on-time data, air traveler behavior and other data collected through surveys, and U.S. Travel proprietary economic models.

The figure accounts for the passengers on more than 7,000 cancelled flights and the spending they would otherwise inject into the economy, but it does not calculate the impact on the airline industry.

Then again, storms such as Tuesday’s do create value for some people and some sectors of the economy.

In cities and towns from New Jersey to Maine there are tens of thousands of dollars spent on plowing and salting the roads. In one part of Massachusetts, hired contract plowers are paid $75 to $140 an hour. Full story

Left Versus Right On How To Build Infrastructure

Traffic on Interstate Highway 110 through downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Traffic on Interstate Highway 110 through downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Two sharply contrasting views of transportation policy were on display in Washington Tuesday.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I- Vt., announced his Rebuild America Act, a $1 trillion, five-year plan to repair and build transit systems, bridges, highways, railroads, ports, the national electric power grid, and national parks.

He did not include financing proposals in the bill.

“What I wanted to do was focus on the need to build the infrastructure and not start the debate right away on how we fund it. There are many ways to fund it and honest people can have honest differences of opinion,” Sanders told reporters.

Sanders serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee which will be working on a highway reauthorization bill this year. He was skeptical about proposals to use repatriated profits of U.S. corporations now held overseas to pay for infrastructure.

He also said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D- Md., the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, is a co-sponsor of his bill.

Meanwhile, the limited-government, free-enterprise think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, issued its 2015 legislative agenda.

Full story

January 27, 2015

CBO Reminder To Congress: Infrastructure Funding 101

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In its annual budget and economic forecast Monday the Congressional Budget Office reminded members of Congress of some of the basics that set the bounds of the infrastructure debate:

  • While federal spending on highways and mass transit has been running at about $53 billion a year in recent years, “annual receipts from highway taxes, which are largely dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund, are projected to stay at $38 billion or $39 billion each year between 2015 and 2025….” Thus the shortfall is about $14 billion a year.
  • CBO predicts that over the long term gasoline consumption will decline, as vehicles’ fuel economy improves. This will “more than offset increases in the number of miles that people drive stemming from both population increases and real income gains per person.”
  • But just for this year, the drop in gasoline prices (down nearly 40 percent from this same point last year) will cause drivers to drive more miles, so CBO projects that “gasoline use and tax revenues will be roughly in line with last year’s figures….”
  • CBO predicts that oil prices will rise again later this year – a forecast which some private-sector economists and investors don’t agree with at all.

Full story

January 20, 2015

Could Obama’s Tax Proposal Help Infrastructure?

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In a pre-State of the Union hors d’oeuvre, President Obama offered over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend a proposal to increase the tax rates on capital gains and dividends, to change the rule on assets that pass to an heir, and to impose a fee on the liabilities of large U.S. financial firms.

The chance of these revenue-raising ideas being enacted by a Republican Congress seems slim. That raises the question of whether Obama’s proposals become part of his negotiations with congressional Republicans on corporate tax reform, or whether they’re more in the nature of an ideological statement and end up being a diversion from tax reform?

Could some of the ideas which Obama offered end up as ingredients in a compromise tax deal?

Full story

January 16, 2015

Gasoline Tax Increase Not Gaining Momentum

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, right, with Speaker John A. Boehner, before the 114th Congress was sworn in on the House floor, Jan. 6, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, right, with Speaker John A. Boehner, before the 114th Congress was sworn in on the House floor, Jan. 6, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“We won’t pass a gas tax increase,” House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan told reporters Thursday at the Republican retreat in Hershey, Pa.

That was almost immediately after he said, “We would like to have a long-term highway bill, but we’ve got to see how we can for pay it.”

Ryan left the door open to a corporate tax overhaul that might raise revenue for infrastructure, an idea which last year he said has merit.

So, for the major players on the Republican side, here’s an updated scorecard on their recent comments on infrastructure financing:

Full story

January 14, 2015

New Note from Thune on Infrastructure Revenues

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and also a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee, has opened the door to using the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate, to pass a tax overhaul that would provide revenue for highways, bridges, tunnels and mass transit.

As reported by my colleague Niels Lesniewski, the South Dakota senator said Tuesday that using budget reconciliation would allow Congress to reform the corporate tax system, thus “dealing with what we know is going to be a crisis come May 31, and that’s funding highways.” (The current authorization bill expires on May 31.)

So Thune was pointedly linking a corporate tax overhaul and infrastructure funding: “We’ve got to come up on a long-term solution, five-six years for highways, and we need to reform corporate tax rates in this country.”

Full story

January 12, 2015

The Week Ahead: Annual Gathering Of The Policy Wonks

A worker makes repairs to a pedestrian walkway and bike path near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. One topic at TRB anual meeting: how states can pay for transportation projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A worker makes repairs to a pedestrian walkway and bike path near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. One topic at TRB anual meeting: how states can pay for transportation projects. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The week’s marquee event in Washington is the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a five-day extravaganza of panel discussions, research presentations, and speeches by government officials, corporate leaders, and academic and think tank experts.

On the are nearly 750 workshops and sessions, on topics ranging from “Self-heating Electrically Conducting Concrete for Pavement De-Icing” to “Understanding the Gender Gap in Urban Biking.”

Monday

At the TRB meeting, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will forecast the year ahead for transportation and also discuss opportunities and challenges facing America’s transportation network over the next thirty years.

Also on Monday’s TRB agenda is a presentation from Timothy Butters, acting head the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Scott Darling, acting head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and other transportation officials who will explain how they go about the federal rule-making process for various modes of transportation.

Tuesday

At the TRB annual meeting, National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart and his colleagues unveil the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements for 2015.

Last year’s NTSB list included banning the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices by anyone while driving a car or a truck, or while piloting a plane, a ship, or a train.

Tuesday’s TRB meeting features a session with state transportation department chiefs on steps they are taking to fund major capital projects in light of the continued uncertainty of federal funding. Featured speakers include Anthony Tata of North Carolina, Charles Zelle of Minnesota, and Joan McDonald of New York.

Thursday and Friday

As the TRB meeting continues, the World Bank is staging its own transportation event, Transforming Transportation: Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity. It features policy makers and experts from several countries including a panel discussion on The Role of Technology in Fostering Sustainable Mobility and Inclusive Growth, with Robin Chase, Founder of Zipcar, and others.

January 9, 2015

Cole Suggests Replacing, Not Raising, Gas Tax

Rep. Tom Cole, R- Okla., who has just been elected to his seventh term (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Tom Cole, R- Okla., who has just been elected to his seventh term (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Capping a week in which some Republicans, most notably Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, indicated an openness to a possible increase in the gasoline tax, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Friday that raising the gasoline tax isn’t what Congress should do to raise revenue for infrastructure.

Asked on C-Span’s Washington Journal whether low gasoline prices – at their lowest levels in four years – make it easier now to pass a gasoline tax increase, Cole replied, “Most of my constituents would say, ‘Don’t take away the benefits of lower prices.’”

Full story

January 6, 2015

Governors’ Inaugurals Highlight Infrastructure

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at his election night victory party on Nov. 4. Walker took his oath Monday. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at his election night victory party on Nov. 4. Walker took his oath Monday. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Governors’ inaugural addresses are usually delivered in broad thematic strokes, not etched in painstaking detail.

But in the inaugural speeches delivered on Monday we saw references to infrastructure that are worth noting:

  • Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California, starting his fourth term, gave a plug early in his inaugural address for the state’s high-speed rail project.

Brown, along with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, will be at the train’s formal ground-breaking ceremony in Fresno Tuesday.

During last year’s campaign, Brown’s Republican opponent Neel Kashkari derided the high-speed train as “the crazy train” which he said was “not only a waste of money, it is a great example–it is a symbol–of Sacramento having the wrong priorities.”

That didn’t seem to help Kashkari, who won only 40 percent of the vote.

Brown said in his address Monday that the state is grappling with its water supply infrastructure by issuing bonds.

But “equally important is having the roads, highways and bridges in good enough shape to get people and commerce to where they need to go. It is estimated that our state has accumulated $59 billion in needed upkeep and maintenance.” He told the legislature “we must do something about it.”

  • In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker delivered his second inaugural, pledging to “build the needed infrastructure to support a thriving economy. A transportation system to assist major industries, like manufacturing, agriculture, forest products, and tourism is a key part of this infrastructure.”

In November, Walker’s transportation secretary proposed $750 million in taxes and fees to pay for highways – including a five cent per gallon increase in the state’s 32.9 cents per gallon gasoline tax.

Walker hasn’t revealed if he’ll include that idea in his budget proposal.

He said last week that raising the gas tax would be a “hard pill to swallow” and asked “is there enough elsewhere in the budget, in terms of property and income taxes being reduced, that could potentially offset that?”

  • Finally in the state with the smallest population but with by far the largest coal output, Wyoming, Republican Gov. Matt Mead said in his inaugural Monday that “We will continue to expand ports, increase international trade, including coal exports, [and] invest in our communities and in our infrastructure….”

Last month Mead last month filed a petition to take part in administrative hearings in Oregon to try to reverse a decision by the state’s Department of Land that blocked a coal terminal on the Columbia River.

The proposed project would bring up to 8.8 million tons of coal a year by train from Montana and Wyoming to Boardman, Ore. From there it would be shipped on barges downstream for export to China and other Asian markets.

Mead said last month Oregon’s decision would cost his state up to $30 million a year in foregone coal tax revenues. He is also battling the state of Washington over a proposed coal terminal there.

January 5, 2015

Let’s Review the Bidding on Infrastructure Funding

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Sunday "we have to look at all the options" on revenue for infrastructure.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Sunday “we have to look at all the options” on revenue for infrastructure. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sunday’s political talk shows reminded anyone still emerging from their holiday stupor that despite the New Year, lawmakers don’t seem closer to an accord on how to pay for highways and infrastructure.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the new chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, broke no new ground by saying on Fox News Sunday that “I don’t think we take anything off the table at this point” — including an increase in the federal excise tax on gasoline.

Thune’s comment drew the retort “WHAT?!?” on Twitter from Dan Holler, communications director for the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action for America, but what Thune said to Fox News on Sunday was what he said to us last November: “I’m not taking any options off the table” on revenue measures as part of a long-term surface transportation bill.

Full story

Seattle Finds Infrastructure Delays Are Such A Bore

When cutting-edge engineering intersects with public finance, the results can sometimes be ugly. Seattle commuters and taxpayers across the state of Washington are learning that the hard way as they watch the saga of Bertha, an $80 million, 7,000-ton tunnel-boring machine now stuck 60 feet under Seattle’s waterfront.

Bertha was designed to dig a tunnel to replace the State Route 99 Alaskan Way viaduct, a major north-south traffic artery in the city, which was damaged by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001.

Full story

December 31, 2014

Transportation Hurdles Ahead In 2015 For Congress

Christmas travelers walk past a man focused on his smartphone on Dec. 23, 2014  at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. during the hectic Christmas travel week.    (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Christmas travelers walk past a man focused on his smartphone on Dec. 23, 2014 at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. during the hectic Christmas travel week. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

In the New Year, Congress faces far-reaching policy and spending choices that will put members under both time and political pressure. Will there be enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done, or will decisions be postponed in favor of short-term expedients?

Here are some of the issues that are likely to be contentious in 2015

  • Unmanned aerial systems: Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee let Federal Aviation Administration officials know at a Dec. 10 hearing that they’re fed up with the agency’s slowness in devising a rule to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into the nation’s airspace.

Congress may take some of these decisions into its own hands if the FAA doesn’t act quickly enough. Some members see the UAV industry’s vast potential being stymied by the FAA’s inaction. Full story

December 23, 2014

Most Encouraging, or Discouraging, Of 2014, Part Four

Underside of the Brooklyn Bridge, which spans the East River in New York City. It opened in 1883. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Underside of the Brooklyn Bridge, which spans the East River in New York City. It opened in 1883. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Here’s the final installment in our round-up of views on the most encouraging, or discouraging, transportation news of 2014.

We thank all our contributors and wish all of them, and all of our readers, a very happy 2015.

“2014 ended on an encouraging note as Congress listened clearly to the safety concerns of professional drivers on the hours-of-service issue and FMCSA [the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] started the ball rolling on creating the first real training requirements for truck drivers. OOIDA is hopeful that this momentum will carry forward into 2015 and a new highway reauthorization bill.”

Ryan Bowley, director of government affairs, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association

Full story

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