Thursday, May 23, 2019

Another Trump U Turn as President Ends Meeting Considered Essential to Future of Freight

Federal Fuel Tax Rise Suggestion Surfaces Again as Infrastructure Ignored Once More
Shipping News Feature
US – This week was supposed to mark the latest 'Infrastructure Week' in the US, an initiative bought forth under the Trump presidency to encourage bipartisan talks to rebuild the country's roads, bridges, and other infrastructure needs. None of that came to fruition as Trump apparently ended a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to discuss funding a $2 trillion infrastructure bill after just three minutes.

The President and lawmakers were expected to discuss how to pay for such a large increase in infrastructure investment. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimated that by 2025 a total investment of $4.59 trillion would be required to improve the nation's infrastructure, warning that if the US continues on its path of funding shortfalls, the country would face serious economic consequences, including $3.9 trillion in losses to US GDP and more than 2.5 million American jobs lost by 2025.

Instead of actual agreements and promised investments, ‘Infrastructure Week’ became a running joke on the internet after the first week in June 2017 with the White House dealing with the fallout of the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Successive Infrastructure Weeks have similarly garnered few results and remain a thorn in the side of industry players who for years, not just within the timeframe of the Trump presidency, wish to see some sort of funding agreement made.

Earlier this month we detailed how the American Trucking Associations (ATA) had high hopes of paying attention to the crumbling transport infrastructure after years of ‘make do and mend’ policy via the Highway Trust Fund. Now House Transportation Committee Chair, Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) plans to pursue a surface transportation reauthorisation as well as individual pieces of infrastructure legislation.

Following the meeting’s end, Rep. DeFazio said that he would continue to work with Republicans to move individual pieces of legislation. Senate Republican leaders have said previously that they prefer to prioritise the surface transportation reauthorisation rather than focus on a broad infrastructure bill. In a statement, DeFazio said:

“We have an infrastructure crisis in this country that will only be resolved when President Trump agrees to put partisan politics aside and get serious about investing in our Nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, transit systems, harbours, airports, wastewater systems, and more. After our initial meeting at the White House several weeks back, I was hopeful we were seeing the first signs of political courage that is so badly needed to make progress and turn a campaign trail talking point into real action. It’s disappointing that today the President and his team walked back from both the $2 trillion proposal and from showing leadership on how to pay for the package.

“Despite the disappointing outcome of today’s meeting, I remain committed to working in a bipartisan manner to move our infrastructure into the 21st Century, because the cost of inaction is too great. Even if a transformative deal with the White House remains elusive in the near term, I will continue to use my position as Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to work with Republicans to move individual pieces of legislation that will make a difference, I will continue to work on a surface transportation reauthorisation bill, and I will continue putting in the legwork to make the improvements to our nation’s infrastructure that Americans expect and deserve.”

Prior to the meeting, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) introduced a measure to raise the federal motor fuels tax and index it to inflation. Members of the trade association of America's travel plaza and truck stop industry NATSO, met with lawmakers on May 15 during their annual day on Capitol Hill to advocate increasing the motor fuels tax as the most efficient way to pay for infrastructure.

The Rebuild America Act of 2019 would increase the federal excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel five cents a year for the next five years. After 2023, the federal gasoline tax would increase to 43.3 cents per gallon and the federal diesel tax would increase to 49.3 cents per gallon. After 2024, the motor fuels tax would be adjusted for inflation.

The measure to raise fuel tax, avoided like the plague by most serving politicians but long advocated (after leaving office) by such as former US Secretary for Transportation, Ray LaHood, was supported by NATSO, the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Trucking Associations.

In a statement to media, NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings thanked Congressman Blumenauer for his leadership in introducing legislation that would increase funding for infrastructure through the fairest and most efficient means possible.

Construction costs and motor vehicle fuel efficiency have continued to climb, yet the federal diesel and gas taxes are the same as they were in 1993 when a gallon of gasoline averaged $1.11 per gallon. NATSO has long held that increasing the motor fuels tax represents the most efficient means of increasing critical infrastructure revenues. NATSO says proposals such as tolling existing interstates and commercialising rest areas are ‘short sighted’.