Sec. Foxx sends highway bill to Congress, but will it get the votes?

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Monday, March 30, 2015

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has sent a $478 billion transportation reauthorization bill to Congress. Dubbed the GROW America Act, the bill offers 45 percent more funding for highways, bridges and transit over a six-year period.

In a statement accompanying the bill, Foxx said he has spent the past year hearing from people all over the U.S. talking about the need to fix, maintain and upgrade infrastructure.

Funding levels have remained at the status quo since the 2005 highway bill known as SAFETEA-LU. Congress extended SAFETEA-LU numerous times since 2009 before passing a two-year highway bill in 2012 known as MAP-21.

MAP-21 ushered in reforms and consolidated a number of DOT programs but left funding levels at the status quo. MAP-21 expired in September 2014, and the most recent temporary extension is set to last until May 31 of this year.

Congress must pass something by May 31, even if it is another temporary extension.

Foxx sees the deadline as an opportunity to raise the bar.

“Our proposal provides a level of funding and also funding certainty that our partners need and deserve,” Foxx said in the DOT statement. “This is an opportunity to break away from 10 years of flat funding, not to mention these past six years in which Congress has funded transportation by passing 32 short-term measures.”

Foxx said many states have been forced to do more with less over the years, forgoing projects and delaying needed repairs.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the GROW America Act would do the following:

  • Increase safety across all modes of transportation, including by almost tripling the budget of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s automobile defects office;
  • Establish an $18 billion freight program so American businesses can compete effectively in a global economy and grow;
  • Increase connections so that more Americans have access to jobs and education, including by raising transit investment by 76 percent;
  • Put in place a transparent and clear permitting process to speed up project delivery; 
  • Increase innovative financing by strengthening Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan programs, by making more Private Activity Bonds (PABS) available, and by nearly doubling funding for our TIGER grant program; and
  • Empower local government by providing more funding to high-performing Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs).

To fund the bill, the White House favors tax reforms including “repatriation,” a reform that would lower the corporate tax rate on companies that bring offshore earnings back to the U.S. as long as they invest it in infrastructure.

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