by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
President Obama is expected to call for Congress to approve a four-year transportation bill during an appearance in St. Paul, Minn. on Wednesday.
Transportation advocates have pleaded with Congress to increase the level of transportation funding and adopt a longer measure. They say both objectives would provide certainty to state and local governments that rely on federal money to complete infrastructure improvements.
Obama’s proposal calls for the passage of a four-year, $302 billion bill that would replace the expiring surface transportation bill that is scheduled to run out in September.
The president’s proposal would represent an increase in both of funding and length of time over the current transportation bill, which was passed in 2012 and contained approximately $109 billion to spend on road and transit projects over two years.
The expiring transportation bill included about $54 billion per year in annual infrastructure spending. The measure relied on revenue collected from the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax and about $20 billion per year in money from other budget areas to prop up infrastructure spending.
The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the Highway Trust Fund, which is traditionally funded by gas tax collections, will go bankrupt as early as August without congressional action.
Advocates have suggested increasing the gas tax for the first time since 1993 to boost its intake levels from its current $34 billion in annual collections.
Obama is expected to steer clear of that debate Wednesday, calling for using $150 billion in what White House officials termed “one-time transition revenue” to restore the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.
White House officials say the money could be generated by savings from lawmakers passing “pro-growth business tax reform.”
Republicans have criticized Obama for offering tax reform as a one-time funding source for transportation instead of an increase or replacement for the gas tax, which transportation advocates say would provide dedicated recurring funding.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said after Obama suggested the tax reform-for-infrastructure proposal in his State of the Union address last month that the White House’s plan for a one-time cash infusion fell short of addressing the transportation funding problem in its entirety.
“We have significant long-term infrastructure needs that must be addressed and responsibly paid for to improve our economic competitiveness, efficiency, and quality of life,” Shuster said in a statement. “However, instead of showing leadership on these critical issues, the President offered little more than recycled sound bites from old speeches.”