Making the case for infrastructure funds

By |  January 26, 2018

Mike Johnson

Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised a $1 trillion investment in our nation’s infrastructure.

Little action took place on the issue during the first year of his presidency, but there is a clear focus on it now in Washington.

The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) and other associations continue to push for a plan that increases funding, addresses the national backlog of critical infrastructure projects and fixes the impending Highway Trust Fund shortfall – and it appears that lawmakers are receptive to these ideas.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce this year recommended a few ways to invest in our infrastructure and shore up the Highway Trust Fund, and NSSGA supports any measure to do so. The Highway Trust Fund has provided stable, reliable and substantial highway funding for decades since its inception in 1956, but this is no longer the case.

It faces a $121 billion shortfall over the next decade, as the revenue generated by the decades-old tax on fuel covers less and less of America’s yearly infrastructure costs due to increased fuel efficiency, eroded purchasing power and alternative fuel vehicles.

The simplest fix for this is to raise the current user fee of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline, last adjusted in 1993, and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel and index it to inflation. The Chamber showed that adding 25 cents (5 cents per year over five years) to the user fee would provide more than $375 billion over the next 10 years. It is the most available option to move beyond temporary fixes, but we must explore a variety of creative funding options to meet our infrastructure needs beyond the next decade.

Congress needs to enact a long-term, robust and sustainable funding mechanism that addresses the infrastructure-funding shortfall with solutions that stabilize and increase critical highway investments.

We recently heard from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, the aptly named Problem Solvers Caucus, who explored a variety of creative funding options in addition to increasing the user fee on fuel. Requiring fully electric and hybrid vehicles to pay their fair share, for example. The current air cargo tax could be broadened to trucking services. A user fee could likewise be generated based on the value of the freight assessed through waybill taxes.

With support from businesses and lawmakers for infrastructure funding, it’s no surprise that the White House also has a plan for rebuilding our roads, highways and bridges.

A Trump administration infrastructure plan leaked on Jan. 22 and suggests funding an “Infrastructure Incentives Initiative” to promote private and local investment in projects through grants. Though there were no details on the actual funds being raised and spent, nearly a quarter of the proposed White House’s infrastructure spending would create a “Rural Infrastructure Program” to address needs in those communities.

Expanding private activity bonds (PABs) was included in the White House plan. NSSGA pushed members of Congress to protect PABs in the recently passed tax reform bill as they are a traditional means of tax-exempt financing for surface transportation projects, airports, port facilities, wastewater facilities and other public works projects.

NSSGA will continue to push for stable federal funding for our infrastructure so that the aggregate industry can help create better roads, create jobs and better position America’s economy for the future.

We know that every job in a quarry creates nearly five others in industries like transportation or construction. It’s also been proven that every dollar invested in our infrastructure yields $6 back in economic growth. The importance of the aggregate industry and investing in our national transportation system could not be clearer.

Michael W. Johnson is the president and CEO of NSSGA.

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