DALLAS – More than 200 House members have signed a letter urging the Ways and Means Committee to use revenues resulting from tax reform to prop up the solvency of the anemic Highway Trust Fund.

“A long-term solution to the HTF’s structural revenue deficit would promote increased transportation infrastructure investment and meaningful economic growth in every state,” Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the highways subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., the ranking Democrat on the panel, wrote in a letter they are circulating.

Transportation revenue will total $6.3 billion in the 2017-2019 biennium, the state projects, up 9.5% from the previous two-year budget.
Transportation revenue will total $6.3 billion in the 2017-2019 biennium, the state projects, up 9.5% from the previous two-year budget. Washington State DOT

All HTF revenue enhancements over the past 30 years have been included in large tax and deficit reduction packages, Graves and Norton said.

“Any HTF solution should entail a long-term, dedicated, user-based revenue stream that can support the transportation infrastructure investment supported by President Trump and members of Congress from both parties,” they said.

Administration officials and House Republicans have said they would like to take up tax reform legislation this year.

Revenues from a lower tax rate on repatriated overseas earnings of U.S.-based multinational corporations has been seen by many Democratic lawmakers as a source of transportation funding, but Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, has been reluctant to link tax reform with infrastructure. President Trump has included such a tax in his tax reform plan to help pay for a cut in the corporate tax rate and other proposals.

More than three dozen House members have signed the HTF letter within the past two weeks, Graves said, bringing the total signatures to 212.

The HTF must be restored before the current federal transportation funding law expires at the end of fiscal 2020, Graves and Norton said.

“Without resolving the issues facing the HTF, Congress will be required to either pass more short-term stopgap measures or provide additional offsets to support a multiyear bill,” they said in the letter. “Simply put, if states are unable to rely on timely reimbursements from the HTF for work performed, projects will be halted, improvements to road safety and congestion relief will be jeopardized, and America’s infrastructure will fall further behind the rest of the world.”

Raising the federal gas tax, currently at 18.4 cents per gallon, is one option for supporting the HTF, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told a local newspaper on May 31.

"As far as the [higher] gas tax, I know the president said it is still on the table. We've been talking about it,” Shuster told the Hagerstown, Md.-based Herald-Mail. “We'll have to see what happens. I think we need to consider everything because this country has not invested in the infrastructure we needed to over the past 20 years. We're seeing signs of the crumbling of our infrastructure."

Funding for the five-year Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 required the transfer of $70 billion from the general fund and elsewhere because expenditures top $50 billion each year but federal gasoline and diesel taxes bring in only about $40 billion per year. Some $140 billion has been transferred into the HTF since 2008.

The HTF would need $96 billion in additional revenues to support a five-year bill when the FAST Act expires or $120 billion for a six-year bill, according to an analysis by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

A White House official told representatives from more than a dozen conservative groups on Thursday that more details of President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal would be unveiled the week of June 5.

Alex Herrgott, associate director for infrastructure for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the plan would take a conservative approach to infrastructure renewal. Organizations represented at the briefing included Americans for Prosperity, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, and the American Conservative Union.

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