These are incredibly challenging times for transportation. Florida is facing a huge transportation funding crisis and our economic future is in serious jeopardy. An additional $23 billion is needed over the next ten years just to "maintain" current transportation conditions. That's why we're working so hard to be Your "Voice" for Transportation. But we need YOU! We've designed this Web site to be informative and user-friendly so YOU can join us in this important work. Together we can Keep Florida Moving!
Our Sponsor of the Week
Visit their Website here.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer has had enough.
With some of the top players in next year’s transportation bill stuck in a staring contest over how to raise billions of dollars, the Democrat introduced two simple bills on Wednesday to address what he calls the upcoming “infrastructure cliff.”
One would raise the gas tax to 33.4 cents cents per gallon, nearly double the current rate of 18.4 cents, over the next few years. That bill would also peg the tax rate to inflation so that its purchasing power doesn’t decline over time.
The other bill would let states look into charging drivers by the mile — a so-called vehicle miles traveled fee — by expanding a pilot program started in Blumenauer’s home state of Oregon. The program would be voluntary and allow states to choose how exactly to test the concept of charging for road use.
In short, his idea is the “big and bold” proposal that former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had promised would come from the White House but so far has not materialized.
“There is an opportunity in the course of the next couple of months to actually get some bipartisan movement,” Blumenauer said in an interview.
Addressing the “infrastructure deficit” — the hundreds of billions of dollars that experts agree the country needs to spend on roads, bridges, ports, railroads and airports — is “every bit as serious as the budget deficit,” Blumenauer said.
But to date, there’s not much sign of progress on finding revenue to pay for the work. With 10 months until the next bill is due and the Highway Trust Fund that pays for road, bridge and transit projects slated to go bankrupt soon afterward, the conversation is stuck in neutral.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says it’s up to Congress to find the money, but a key House panel says the administration should take the lead.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, is floating the idea of replacing the flat gas tax with a percentage sales tax, but her House counterpart, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), says it’s too early to even talk about funding.
For years, the problem has been that although policymakers agree that American infrastructure needs a major upgrade and expansion, there is no consensus on how to pay for it. All the possible solutions — including the two Blumenauer is proposing — are fraught with political peril.
Americans overwhelmingly oppose a gas tax increase — a Gallup poll earlier this year found two-thirds of drivers are against the hike, even if the money goes to roads and bridges.
The VMT system is still facing public angst over whether the government will be able to track the location of every car. Just last year, the House approved on a voice vote language that would bar the Department of Transportation from spending any money to implement a VMT program.
To build support for his ideas, Blumenauer took a methodical approach to rolling out his bills. Well ahead of Wednesday’s introduction, he talked to Foxx, Shuster and the transportation panel’s ranking member, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).
“I don’t want folks to feel blindsided,” Blumenauer said. But giving people a heads-up doesn’t guarantee their support — and that support will be hard to find.
“It’s as crazy as crazy can be,” one senior GOP member of the Transportation Committee said of Blumenauer’s proposal.
A gas tax increase is “dead on arrival,” said the panel’s former chairman, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a key player in last year’s transportation bill, adding that “the only way they can pass it is to take over the House in the 2014 elections.”
But even a Democrat-controlled House may be reluctant to take it on, and President Barack Obama has steadfastly refused to accept a gas tax hike that would violate his pledge not to raise taxes on middle-class families.
One senior Democrat on the Transportation Committee was brutally honest about Blumenauer’s plan for the gas tax and VMT bills: “I have no idea what he’s doing.”
“We couldn’t get a nickel past Obama,” the lawmaker said of a failed 2009 bill that was derailed by the administration’s opposition to the 5-cent gas tax hike needed to pay for it.
Republicans admit there is a problem, even though they might be opposed to the tax increase that Blumenauer argues is needed to fix it.
“The dirty little secret is somehow, some way we have to address how we’re going to pay for transportation,” said another GOP member of the committee. “It’s a conversation we absolutely have to have.”
But could a gas tax break through the blanket Republican hatred of taxes? “I don’t think so,” the member admitted.
Blumenauer’s bills might be long shots, but the math behind the problem he’s addressing is inescapable.
The country needs $100 billion over the next 10 years just to maintain current highway spending levels, according to the Congressional Budget Office — but experts and policymakers agree that’s not enough and needs to increase. The transit account needs an additional $30 billion over the next 10 years as systems around the country face repair backlogs totaling billions of dollars.
And there’s another twist in this transportation tale: Like any major legislation, there’s a scoring problem. Specifically, experts say the official estimates of revenue generated by a gas tax increase are too low.
The CBO, working from estimates from the Joint Committee on Taxation, issued a report earlier this year that looked at a number of options, including the gas tax. The CBO found a 35-cent increase would yield $42 billion extra in 2015, slowly ramping up to $51 billion by 2023. That equates to $1.2 billion for each penny next year, increasing to just shy of $1.5 billion per penny 10 years from now.
JCT has not said how exactly it calculated that figure, but several transportation-financing experts say the panel considers macroeconomic factors like businesses taking higher depreciation write-offs because of greater expenses, which lowers the total revenue estimate.
The Highway Trust Fund would very likely take in about $1.5 billion for each extra penny in the gas tax, a figure experts said is the consensus in financing circles. But if CBO gives lawmakers credit for only part of that money, a bill that stabilizes the HTF could still be scored as increasing the deficit — a virtual death sentence in the Republican House.
The math might be messy. But the problem is here to stay until Congress addresses it.
“If they don’t deal with it now, they’ll deal with it sometime,” one GOP congressman said. “It’s an issue that’s not going away.”