The Obama Administration released its first-ever surface transportation reauthorization proposal last week. Of the total $302 billion in transportation spending spread out over four years, $150 billion would come from a one-time infusion of funds generated from corporate tax reforms. $10 billion would be dedicated to freight, and half of that would be distributed through a two-tiered incentive grant program for states. Incentives include creating a state freight advisory council and state freight plan, as well as collaborating with neighboring states to analyze needs. The remaining $5 billion, plus any unused money from the state-based incentive grant program, would be distributed through a discretionary competitive grant program to support freight-related infrastructure investments across all freight-carrying modes.
The Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors (CAGTC) released a statement supporting this action, stating that it would create jobs for American workers.
“It would enable transportation planners to prioritize freight projects that allow businesses to move goods to consumers and foreign markets,” said Sharon Neely, CAGTC chairman and deputy executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments. “We hope Congress will seriously consider this plan for prioritizing investment in freight infrastructure to keep our nation globally competitive.”
The Administration’s FY 2015 budget proposal, released in February, puts forward a combination of highway trust fund revenues and corporate tax reform proceeds to pay for the programs. In addition to the $10 billion of freight-specific funding, the proposal would codify the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) competitive grant program, providing $5 billion over four years.
“The Administration’s combination of grant programs creates a ‘Race to the Top’ for increasing freight capacity and improving conditions in freight-intensive localities across the United States,” said Leslie Blakey, president and executive director, CAGTC.
Meanwhile, the Alliance for American Competitiveness (AFAC) issued a statement saying it will seek to communicate with lawmakers and policy experts on both the national and local levels. Their goal is to make the case to lawmakers that infrastructure investment is both necessary and vital to the long term economic competitiveness of the U.S.
The International Union of Operating Engineers called the bill a blueprint for progress.
“Political pundits say that fixing the Highway Trust Fund will be a ‘heavy lift’ for Congress this year,” said James T. Callahan, general president of the IUOE. “Members of Congress and Secretary Foxx have all signaled the importance of finding a bi-partisan solution quickly and we agree. There is no time to waste. We are calling on Congress to build upon this proposal and put in place a measure that delivers long-term certainty to transportation planning and opens on ramps to job creation in the construction industry. Now is the time for Congress to do its job so we can do ours. Leave the real heavy lifting to the men and women of the Operating Engineers.”
The American Trucking Associations, however, issued a stinging criticism of the proposal, stating that any bill that moves away from a user fee funded transportation system would not be acceptable to the American trucking industry,
“President Obama has talked more about the need to address our critical infrastructure deficit than any president in the past 20 years,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. “While the President’s plan supports a growing program, we cannot help but be very disappointed in much of the plan his administration has put forward. ... We have real questions about the viability of the administration’s plan to use one-time proceeds from an unspecified and unlikely to pass corporate tax reform idea, along with inefficient highway tolling or private capital financing. The focus must be on real, long-term funding answers rather than repeatedly looking for the proverbial ‘nickels in the couch cushions.”
Added ATA Executive Vice President Dave Osiecki:
“It is clear that this administration is aiming to hijack the Highway Trust Fund and convert it into a fund to finance a myriad of projects to benefit interests that do not pay user fees into the Fund."