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House Infrastructure Chair Unveils Draft Plan

Friday, July 27, 2018

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U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania, who serves as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, unveiled a draft proposal Monday to provide the long-languishing Highway Trust Fund with an infusion of cash and to seek long-term solutions to the United States’ infrastructure-funding issues.

The draft, which has not been officially introduced to Congress, involves a 15-cent increase to the federal gas tax—a move Republicans have long resisted, but that President Donald J. Trump has expressed support of—as well as additional taxes on alternative forms of transit, including on bicycle tires and electric-car batteries.

Gas pump
© iStock.com / aydinmutlu

Shuster's proposal would raise the federal gas tax for the first time in 25 years.

The proposal also calls for the addition of a tax on diesel fuel used by some passenger trains and the elimination of tax breaks for public-transit buses.

Restarting Discussion

Shuster, who has served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for 17 years, announced earlier this year that he will not seek re-election, effectively ending his tenure at the end of 2018.

The release of the draft was reportedly meant to jumpstart discussions of a larger infrastructure plan, which was an early stated priority for the Trump administration, but has been stalled since the initial rollout of Trump’s plan in February, and is unlikely to see any real action before the mid-term elections in November.

Trust Fund Upkeep

Shuster’s plan is meant to keep the Highway Trust Fund from drying up over the next three years while a new Highway Trust Fund Commission, consisting of Congressional appointees, would study the nation’s highway system and how best to fund its upkeep.

The Trust Fund, bankrolled largely by the federal gasoline and diesel-fuel taxes, has been propped up by short-term expenditures several times in recent years. The federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993, though the U.S. dollar has been subject to inflation of about 75 percent in the past 25 years. Advocates have noted that in general, vehicles have become more fuel-efficient since the 1990s, leaving the gas tax as a less effective means of raising funds.

Bridge construction
© iStock.com / cocosan

The release of the draft was reportedly meant to jumpstart discussions of a larger infrastructure plan, which is unlikely to see any real action before the mid-term elections in November.

Shuster’s proposal authorizes $4.5 billion in spending on Surface Transportation Block Grants over the next three years. It proposes another $900 million in spending on bus-related projects through 2021.

Accelerating Permits

One area where Shuster’s plan echoes Trump’s is in the institution of “One Federal Decision” in an effort to expedite delivery of big federally funded projects. Environmental reviews and other permitting processes would be limited to no more than two years total and would be overseen by one federal agency, which would coordinate with other federal entities where necessary.

Major projects must currently go through a lengthy permitting process that often involves multiple agencies (such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers) working independently of one another, and can take several years.

   

Tagged categories: Funding; Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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