Congress focuses on infrastructure, funding

| Friday, May 13, 2011

As Congress gets closer to drafting and debating a multiyear transportation authorization bill, lawmakers are offering up their own ideas about infrastructure and funding in an effort to get them included. There’s a reason these proposals are coming forward, says Ryan Bowley, director of legislative affairs for OOIDA.

“The White House continues to say that a fuel tax is off the table, so that’s why we are seeing various funding bills like the infrastructure bank bills,” Bowley said.

“Some of these ideas have been around a while. Everybody’s trying to come up with more money or efforts to direct money.”

Following is a roundup of four proposals initiated by lawmakers in recent days.

Let’s start in the Senate, where Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, and Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, are drafting a proposal that would establish an infrastructure fund to attract more private investment.

The bill calls for $5 billion in seed money in 2012 and another $5 billion the following year to be used for loans and loan guarantees by private investors in infrastructure.

“The United States has not adequately invested in its transportation infrastructure, and we’re seeing the results in our crumbling roads and bridges, airport delays, and a rail network that doesn’t meet the demands of travelers and businesses,” Lautenberg said in a statement.

Language in the bill is similar to other efforts, including a White House proposal to create an infrastructure bank.

Also in the Senate is a proposal that would extend the U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. TIGER stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, and it originated as part of the $787 billion “stimulus bill” in 2009.

Sens. Patty Murray, D-WA, Susan Collins, R-ME, and Dick Durbin, D-IL, have announced their intentions to extend TIGER through 2018.

TIGER funds, which come from the general Treasury and not from the Highway Trust Fund, are used as grants for road, bridge, transit, rail and other transportation projects in areas that need the jobs.

Lawmakers in the U.S. House have offered up a pair of transportation-infrastructure proposals in recent days.

HR1737, known as the STATE Act, or Surface Transportation and Taxation Equity Act, would award primary responsibility for transportation and infrastructure projects, including taxing authority, to the states.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Scott Garrett, R-NJ, says the act would cut federal bureaucracy and eliminate federal mandates that threaten to withhold transportation money from states. He says states would do a better job at addressing their own transportation needs.

“It’s time for us to take a fresh approach to highway and infrastructure spending in the United States,” Garrett said in a statement.

Lastly, a House proposal called the Infrastructure Jobs and Energy Independence Act calls for responsible expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration. Proceeds from this act would go toward creating jobs including transportation infrastructure.

The Bipartisan Energy Working Group, of which House Rep. Bill Shuster, R-PA, is a member, says the American people want to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and revive the country’s infrastructure.

“Our infrastructure is in very, very poor condition,” Shuster stated during a press conference. “This is a bill that’s going to help rebuild our infrastructure and make us competitive in the world.”

The working group says the proposal would generate up to $3.7 trillion in new money for the American economy, of which about 20 percent would be dedicated to rebuilding U.S. infrastructure.

Other members of the energy panel include Reps. Tim Murphy, R-PA, Jim Costa, D-CA, and Tim Walz, D-MN.

Back in March, Sens. John Kerry, D-MA, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, introduced S652, dubbed the BUILD Act, which would create an infrastructure bank to leverage private investment in transportation.