It’s time to focus on infrastructure

Therese Dunphy

February 5, 2018

The road to infrastructure investment has experienced two hallmarks often experienced on nation’s highways: delays and potholes.

Although infrastructure was promised to be addressed within the first 100 days of President Trump’s administration, it came as little surprise to those who have studied the development of past bills that 100 days came and went without a proposal. First, it was pushed to the fall, then put on hold as Congress took on tax reform.

When tax reform was passed, expectations of an impending announcement were high. In early January, the president’s chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, discussed a proposal for a $1 trillion plan built around public-private partnerships. It included $200 billion in federal spending, as well as $800 billion from state, local, and private-sector sources. As these details began to emerge, President Trump told Republican leaders the same thing he said to Democrats months earlier: public-private partnerships are ineffective. Following his comments, the National Review wrote: “What’s next? If the White House policy staff brings out a detailed infrastructure-spending proposal along the lines of their earlier ideas, which the president has criticized, it is unlikely to get much of a hearing.”

The patch for this particular pothole may come from an endangered species: a bipartisan Congressional effort. On Jan. 10, U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), co-chairs of the Problem Solvers Caucus Infrastructure Working Group, released a report (Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure) highlighting its recommendations.

“I was proud to work in a bipartisan manner…to produce a comprehensive report detailing areas in which we can begin to work together to streamline processes and provide sustainable funding solutions,” Rep. Katko said in a press release. “In doing so, we’ve signaled to President Trump, as well as leaders on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate, that we are ready to work in a bipartisan manner to move our nation’s infrastructure forward.”

“You cannot build a 21st century economy with a mid-20th century infrastructure,” Rep. Esty added. “It’s time for infrastructure.”

Among the group’s suggestions is “modernizing the current federal gasoline user fee” and implementing an indexing mechanism for future funds. Whether that happens immediately or in a phased-in approach, the goal would be to ensure full and sustainable funds to the Highway Trust Fund. Other ideas include an annual registration fee on electric and hybrid vehicles, a user fee based on the value of freight, and incentivized pilot projects to test mileage-based user fees.

A bipartisan legislative approach would be a welcome change, as would an expeditious one. As the report notes: “Lawmakers must stop kicking this can down the road.”

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