DALLAS -- More than half of all House members have urged the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee to ensure the future solvency of the Highway Trust Fund with new revenue that could be realized through tax reform.
A letter signed by 253 House members was delivered to the chairman and ranking Democratic member of the Ways and Means committee late last week asking them to find a "long-term, dedicated, user-based revenue stream" to keep the HTF afloat.
Reps. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., the chairman and ranking minority member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s panel on highways and transit, circulated the letter signed by 119 of the 241 Republicans in the House and 134 of the 194 Democrats.
Graves said he was more confident that Congress would restore the solvency of the HTF than he was in 2016, when 130 House members – 56 Republicans and 76 Democrats – signed a similar letter that he and Norton drafted.
“I’m feeling pretty good about getting that title in that [tax reform] package,” he said. “The best thing we can do for this country’s transportation infrastructure is bring long-term certainty to the Highway Trust Fund.”
Graves praised President Trump’s $1 trillion, 10-year infrastructure renewal proposal, but said a reliable, multiyear solution is required to upgrade the national transportation grid.
“Instead of thinking a one-time, trillion-dollar investment would solve our long-term infrastructure problems, my focus is on making sure we're being responsible in how we plan for and fund projects in the future," Graves said.
Providing long-term certainty to keeping the HTF is the best solution for deteriorating highways and transit systems, he said.
“What we need is a modern, sustainable system that keeps revenues flowing so states are able to invest in projects as they come up, not once it's too late,” Graves said. “As Washington focuses in on tax and infrastructure reform, we have the perfect opportunity to fix the HTF.”
Congress has transferred more than $140 billion from the general fund and other sources into the HTF since 2008 to keep it solvent as the revenues from the federal gasoline tax fail to cover expenditures.
The HTF’s shortfall between revenues and expenditures will total $18 billion per year when the five-year Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act expires at the end of fiscal 2020, the Congressional Budget Office said last year.
The HTF is the federal government’s largest source of ongoing infrastructure investment and the main avenue for distributing federal funding to states and localities for highways and public transit, said Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
“"That trust fund has long needed Congress to improve the dedicated revenue stream in order to meet investment goals that lawmakers authorize,” Wright said. "Now, with national policymakers intent on producing both an infrastructure bill and tax reform, Congress has an opportunity to make long-lasting improvements to the trust fund."
The Graves-Norton letter noted that tax reform and deficit reduction have been used in the past to provide more revenue for the HTF. However, the latest fact sheet distributed by the Treasury Department on the administration’s tax proposals did not include any additional money for transportation infrastructure.
A bipartisan House coalition that calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus also wants to find additional infrastructure funding from tax reform.
Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Tom Reed R-N.Y., who head the group of some 40 House members, said infrastructure funding should be linked to corporate tax reforms that encourage multinational corporations to return their overseas earnings to the U.S.
“Lower tax rates, specifically a lower corporate tax rate, frees up more capital for businesses to invest. Moreover, it encourages corporations to build their businesses here in America, rather than going overseas,” they said. “By investing in our infrastructure, Congress and the president can ensure that Americans feel the full economic effects of comprehensive tax reform.”