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Earl B.
Democrat OR 3

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  • Introduction of the Update, Promote and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials Act of 2015, and the Road Usage Charge Pilot Program Act of 2015

    by Representative Earl Blumenauer

    Posted on 2015-02-03

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    BLUMENAUER of oregon in the house of representatives Tuesday, February 3, 2015 Mr. BLUMENAUER. Mr. Speaker, today, I am introducing two pieces of legislation to address America's growing infrastructure funding crisis and looming transportation cliff. The reason is simple: America is falling apart and falling behind. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated our infrastructure as a D+ and America, which once had the finest infrastructure in the world, was ranked 25th, behind Barbados and Oman, in 2013. The funding mechanism for our transportation system has been broken for years, and the Highway Trust Fund will run dry in May. On the eve of peak construction season, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be forced to stop reimbursing states for highway and transit projects. The uncertainty is already causing states and local governments to put off or cancel much-needed maintenance, let alone new investment.

    If this sounds familiar, it's because we've been here before. Since the last full six year surface transportation bill expired in 2003, Congress has passed 2 partial authorizations and 23 short-term extensions, most recently in August 2014. The federal gas tax, unchanged since 1993, has locked the Highway Trust Fund in a death spiral, and the search for necessary revenue has derailed a traditionally bipartisan, consensus-driven policy process. Just to maintain current, inadequate transportation funding, Congress has had to borrow more than $65 billion from the general fund since 2008, in an increasingly desperate search for revenue in all corners of the federal budget.

    The gas tax, since it was last raised to 18.4 cents a gallon in 1993, has lost nearly 40% of its purchasing power due to inflation and rising fuel efficiency. If the gas tax had been indexed to inflation in 1993, it would be at nearly 30 cents a gallon. Instead, the gas tax is barely higher in real terms than the first federal gas tax, levied at one cent a gallon in 1932. We're trying to fund 21st Century infrastructure with a Depression Era level of investment. It's no surprise that we face Depression Era consequences.

    The Highway Trust Fund will run an annual shortfall of more than $15 billion after 2017, and unless Congress acts, we face a drop in transportation funding of 30% over the next ten years. The situation is already dire--rough roads alone cost each driver an average of $324 a year, and the cost of time wasted sitting in traffic will top $1000 per family by 2020. Further, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that our deteriorating infrastructure will restrict our national GDP growth by nearly $900 billion by 2020.

    The case for increasing our investment in infrastructure is clear. A recent S&P Ratings report suggests that every $1.3 billion invested in infrastructure would add 29,000 jobs, $2 billion in economic growth, and cut the deficit by $200 million. Two congressionally authorized commissions, the Simpson Bowles deficit reduction plan, and organizations representing business, labor, environmentalists, car advocates and cyclists, all agree on the solution to solve the Highway Trust Fund crisis and increase transportation investment: raise the federal gas tax.

    The UPDATE Act, which I introduced today, would increase federal gas and diesel taxes by a nickel a year, phased in over each of the next three years, and index those taxes to inflation. This would generate $210 billion over the next ten years, enough to make up the Highway Trust Fund shortfall and increase infrastructure investment by at least $4 billion a year. It would cost the average driver roughly $70 a year over the next six years, or less than 20% of what every American is already paying in vehicle maintenance, lost travel time, and carbon pollution.

    Increasing the gas tax is the only solution to our growing revenue crisis that is dedicated to transportation spending, sustainable for the long term, and is big enough to do the job. For the first time in years, it's also politically possible. World oil prices have fallen nearly 60% since June 2014, and prices at the pump were at a six year low last week. More than 12 states are now considering increasing gas taxes, taking advantage of low prices. 8 states acted to raise gas taxes in the last two years, including Wyoming and New Hampshire. A growing number of Senators from both parties and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi have signaled openness, if not outright support for raising the gas tax.

    The UPDATE Act will stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, and make sure that our infrastructure crisis does not worsen. The legislation [[Page E153]] also affirms the sense of the Congress that by 2024, the gas tax should be repealed and replaced with a more sustainable funding source. My second piece of legislation, the Road Usage Charge Pilot Program Act, provides research funding for states to explore a transition away from the gas tax to a system based on vehicle miles travelled (VMT). Such a Road Usage Charge system would be more fair, a more accurate reflection of road use, and more sustainable for the long term, as fuel efficiency increases and hybrid and electric vehicles rise in popularity. Questions remain about how best to implement such a system, collect revenue, and address privacy concerns. Congress should encourage states to answer these questions through pilot projects. This legislation, instead of tying America's transportation system to the past, paves the way for the future.

    Addressing the infrastructure deficit, stabilizing transportation funding, and helping America's all-too-slow economic recovery is critical if we want a livable and economically prosperous country in the years to come. All we need to make it happen is a commitment to build the future together.


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