by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pushed lawmakers Wednesday to approve a plan from President Obama to spend $98 billion on transportation projects this year.
The proposal, part of a $4.1 trillion budget for fiscal 2017, calls for increasing federal transportation spending this year by about $40 billion over the amount that was included in a highway bill Congress passed last year.
Foxx said Tuesday Obama’s plan is a “robust budget proposal that creates an American transportation system unrivaled in its ability to meet the challenges of the future.
“In Fiscal Year 2017 the President’s plan includes $98 billion in transportation investments — a significant increase over FAST Act levels — to support advances in safety, in repairing and replacing aging infrastructure, and in driving forward the innovative technologies that will help us move more safely and efficiently in the coming years. That is a robust investment,” he said in a blog post on the transportation department’s website.
The new transportation proposal from Obama comes after lawmakers passed a five-year, $305 billion highway bill last fall. The new law was first highway funding measure that lasts longer than two years that was approved by Congress since 2005.
Lawmakers have raised questions about the feasibility of increasing federal transportation spending levels beyond the approximately $57 billion per year that is included in the 2015 infrastructure funding law.
“The President’s final budget unfortunately doesn’t look much different than other years — it is a spending wish list that doesn’t reflect our real budgetary constraints and that would saddle hard-working Americans with additional taxes and fees,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said in a statement when he proposal was released.
The White House has said the plan to increase transportation spending could be paid for by a proposed $10-per-barrel fee on oil production.
The traditional source of transportation funding since its inception of the interstate highway system has been revenue that is collected from the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and improved fuel efficiency has sapped its purchasing power.
The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually at its current rate.
Lawmakers turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the $16 billion per year gap last year, but transportation advocates have said the federal gas tax will have to eventually be increased or replaced with a more sustainable funding source to keep pace with rising costs for infrastructure projects.
Foxx said Wednesday that Obama’s proposal would reverse a decade-long struggle to fund the nation’s transportation projects.
“If the years of struggle to pass a long-term transportation bill tell us anything, they tell us that we need to rethink our strategy,” he wrote. “The president’s budget proposal recognizes that neither the current patchwork funding approach nor the rigid and antiquated distribution of transportation dollars through a formula is going to put our nation’s infrastructure in the best possible position for our kids and grandkids.”
Obama’s plan would increase the federal government’s spending on road and transit projects by approximately $40 billion this year over the levels that were included in the 2015 infrastructure law.
The president’s plan includes a $10 billion annual increase for Federal Transit Administration programs that have been used to help states build new light rail and streetcars that have been touted by the Obama administration.
The White House has said the plan also includes $7 billion per year to reaffirm “the administration’s commitment to high-speed rail.”
The proposal would also double the amount of money that is available for the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program that was created by the 2009 economic stimulus bill. The TIGER program, which currently authorized at about $500 million, allows states to apply for funding for transportation projects that “will have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region,” according to the DOT’s website.
The Congressional Budget Office has projected it would have taken about $100 billion, in addition to the annual gas tax receipts, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill.
Lawmakers relied instead on a package of approximately $70 billion of offsets from other areas of the federal budget to help pay for the recently completely highway bill, which lasts until 2021.