Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 31, 2015

Posts in "Highway Trust Fund"

January 30, 2015

A Look Back: Cuomo, Coons, Coal, Climate Change

A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound in Shelbiana, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound in Shelbiana, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

This week we looked at the buzz over a new revenue source for the nation’s highways and transit systems. Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., Sen. Barbara Boxer, D- Calif., Rep. John Delaney, D- Md., and others are proposing ways to tax repatriated profits and fill the Highway Trust Fund.

Think big – $170 billion, Delaney says. We’re a long way from a committee markup, but things seem to be moving.

We also used the appearance of Henry Kissinger before the Senate Armed Services Committee to revisit the perennial struggle of “guns versus butter,” or America’s overseas commitments versus its domestic needs (like subways, buses, and tunnels).

Kissinger once worked for a man who said, “Until we make public transportation an attractive alternative to private car use, we will never be able to build highways fast enough to avoid congestion.” That was in 1969. Are we there yet?

As well as congestion this week we also examined Cuomo, climate change, Chris Coons, and coal.

In that order:

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York ordered highways closed and commuter railroad and subway service to halt at 11pm Monday in the face of a blizzard, which in the end turned out to be a bit underwhelming, at least in New York. We looked at the economic winners and losers from the storm.
  • The Senate voted to disagree with the idea that “more frequent and intense extreme weather events” are damaging the nation’s highways, subways, and ports. It voted to kill an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill offered by Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., that he said “simply acknowledges that climate change is having an impact on our infrastructure” and doesn’t blame humans for it.
  • Burning coal to produce electricity allowed me to write this and allows you to read it, at least if you’re in one of the regions of the country where coal is heavily used, as in the Mid-Atlantic States. Burning coal produces carbon dioxide and, many scientists say, it contributes to climate change.

But railroads make money by moving coal from mine to power plant.

We heard this week from Norfolk Southern how a decline in coal shipments is hurting the railroad’s bottom line.

Obama Transportation Proposals: Deja Vu All Over?

President Obama and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx tour the Metro Transit Light Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility in St Paul, Minn. last February. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx tour the Metro Transit Light Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility in St Paul, Minn. last February. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama presents his Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal on Monday.

You’d probably not be off course if you were to read his transportation proposals from last year, almost none of which has yet been enacted, to get an inkling of what initiatives he’s going to offer.

The FY16 blueprint seems likely to be a revival of much of last year’s agenda.

The inescapable topic, of course, is a new source of revenue to pay for highways, bridges, and mass transit systems.

There’s momentum building for some method of taxing U.S. corporations’ overseas profits to pay for infrastructure.

Full story

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

Kissinger A Reminder Of Strategic/Transit Trade-Offs

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The connection between international strategy and mass transit might seem tenuous.

But Thursday’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Iran, nuclear weapons, and related matters was a reminder of the lasting tension between spending money on domestic needs, such as transit, and overseas commitments.

In 1969, Kissinger faced the same choices when he served as President Nixon’s national security.

In his memoirs, White House Years, Kissinger writes that he and Nixon in 1969 had to decide what U.S. strategy would be in Europe to defend against potential Russian, (or Soviet as it was then) aggression.

One option was to build up U.S. nuclear forces based in Europe; another option was to build up U.S. conventional (non-nuclear) forces stationed there. Full story

January 28, 2015

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 21, 2015

Infrastructure Funding Deal Not Yet Clear

President Obama arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Obama arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

What was not made clear in President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night was whether he’d be willing to sign a stand-alone bill to use profits of U.S. corporations now held overseas to pay for infrastructure.

Would he instead insist on a bill that included some of the tax increases that the White House sketched out over the weekend such as higher tax rates on dividends and capital gains?

Obama said Tuesday night that Congress must “close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America.”

The idea of using an overhaul of corporate taxes to come up with revenue for infrastructure was an element of his $302 billion Grow America Act unveiled last April.

But it’s an open question whether the president would sign a bill along the lines of the Partnership to Build America Act sponsored by Rep. John Delaney, D-Md. and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R- Pa.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Michael Bennet, D- Colo. have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

The measure would let U.S. companies repatriate some of their overseas profits tax free if they invested them in infrastructure bonds.

Despite later in the speech lamenting the use of “gotcha” moments in politics, Obama took an opportunity to ding the proponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline by saying “let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline; let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year” as the Keystone XL project.

Absent from Obama’s speech was any mention of the simplest, but politically unpalatable, expedient of raising the gasoline tax to pay for a new infrastructure bill. Obama did not join the chorus of those saying, ‘why not raise gasoline taxes since the price at the pump is now so low?’

As infrastructure advocates wait for the repatriation-for-infrastructure details to be worked out, their goals haven’t changed.

As American Road & Transportation Builders Association president Pete Ruane said Tuesday night, what they seek is “a long-term revenue stream to ensure state governments have the reliable federal partner they need to make overdue improvements to America’s roads, bridges and transit systems.”

And Patrick Jones, CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, said Obama and Congress ought to give states “greater flexibility to meet their individual transportation funding needs—including the right to use tolling on their existing Interstate highways for the purpose of reconstruction.”

Airports Missing From Obama SOTU Infrastructure List

President Obama greets House Speaker John Boehner, as Vice President Biden looks on, in the House chamber before Obama delivered his State of the Union address. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Obama greets House Speaker John Boehner, as Vice President Biden looks on, in the House chamber before Obama delivered his State of the Union address. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The term “infrastructure” got five mentions from President Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday night and he cited three transportation modes in particular: shipping (ports), highways (“stronger bridges”), and “faster trains.”

One infrastructure word not in Obama’s speech Tuesday was “airports.”

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

Do Cheap Gas, Brisk Car Sales Mean More Miles Driven?

Nissan caes for sale in Fairfax, Va. last month  (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Nissan caes for sale in Fairfax, Va. last month (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Correlation isn’t causation, but it may be significant for transportation policy makers that falling gasoline prices have coincided with robust sales for new cars and light trucks.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Monday that the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $1.11 a gallon less than a year ago at this point.

In Toledo, Ohio on Monday, to cite one example, you could buy gasoline for as little as $1.54 a gallon.

Full story

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

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