House Democratic leaders on Jan. 29 released a five-year, $760 billion framework to improve the nation’s highways, bridges, transit and broadband as the Ways & Means (W&M) Committee held a hearing to consider how to pay for the plan. (Factsheet and Framework text)
- The 19-page “Moving Forward Framework” was unveiled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the chairs of three House committees – Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Energy Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and W&M Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA). (Video of news conference)
- Elements of the “Moving Forward” blueprint, estimated to create 10 million jobs, include:
- $434 billion for highways, bridges, transit and other surface transportation – comprising the package’s financial bulk – with incentives for projects that reduce carbon pollution and improve resiliency to climate change impacts;
- Streamlining the Transportation Department’s underwriting process for low-interest TIFIA loans;
- Prioritizing spending from the national Highway Trust Fund (“HTF”) with a “Fix It First” strategy to repair crumbling roads and bridges ;
- A pilot to sustain the long-term solvency of the HTF (which is frequently bailed-out by Congress) through a “vehicle miles traveled” user fee;
- Quicker federal grant approvals for transit projects of national and regional significance, to support critical investments like the NY-NJ Gateway program;
- Priorities for investments that help transform U.S. rail and airport networks;
- Expansion of renewable energy infrastructure and investments to de-carbonize the electric grid; and
- New infusions of capital for Brownfields re-development.
- The Roundtable has long supported legislation for a comprehensive infrastructure overhaul. It has recommended a number of measures reflected in the Democratic framework. (E.g., March 20, 2019 W&M comments; April 29, 2019 T&I comments.)
- Projects supported by federal dollars in the “Moving Forward” plan would trigger prevailing wage requirements for laborers and contractors under Davis-Bacon standards.
- Meanwhile, the W&M Committee held a hearing Jan. 29 on “Paving the Way for Funding and Financing Infrastructure Investments.” The hearing explored potential funding options for a national infrastructure effort, including raising the gasoline tax; expanding tax-exempt bonds; establishing a vehicle-miles traveled user fee; and greater use of public-private partnerships (P3s). The Congressional Budget Office reported last week that P3s have accounted for only 1 to 3 percent of spending for highway, transit, and water infrastructure since 1990.
- Chairman Neal and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) both endorsed an expansion of dynamic budget scoring beyond tax cuts for infrastructure investments. In his opening statement, Neal cited tax-preferred bonds, including Build America Bonds, as an important infrastructure financing tool, while also highlighting the new markets tax credit, the low-income housing tax credit, and the historic tax credit. Rep. Brady proposed creating Opportunity Zones for infrastructure. (Politico, Jan. 30)
The Trump Administration and Congressional Democrats have long touted a comprehensive infrastructure package as an area for bipartisan agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently stated that infrastructure policy could advance after the impeachment trial ends. (Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 24)
However, during this election year, prospects for a more modest infrastructure plan (compared to the expansive Democratic framework) are higher. The current Highway Trust Fund of approximately $226 billion – the main funding source for roads, bridges and transit – is set to expire on September 30, 2020. Shoring-up the HTF is expected to be the main focus of Congress and stakeholders for the rest of FY 2020. (Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 4)
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