WASHINGTON — Transportation experts and lobbyists believe the newly anointed chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Bill Shuster, will make financing issue a bigger focus than the man he will replace.
Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, will take the reins of the committee next year after being formally selected last week to replace outgoing Chairman John Mica, R-Fla. Many transportation lobbyists on Capitol Hill say Shuster is a tried-and-true transportation man and is likely to make finding sustainable revenues for highways, rail programs, and water infrastructure the major issue during his chairmanship.
“I think his big priority, unlike Mica, is the money issue,” said a highway lobbyist who asked not to be identified.
Shuster’s public comments on his finance philosophy have been broad and indicate that the new chairman, who will be serving his seventh term in Congress, could consider increasing gasoline taxes or pushing new methods of raising revenue for the ailing highway trust fund. That pool of money, which funds federal aid highway programs, is projected to run dry in 2015 without further legislative action.
The lobbyist said Shuster has expressed interest in using mileage-based user fees, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated could provide more than triple the revenue of the current gas-tax system. Under a mileage-based system, drivers would pay a fee based on how far they drive rather than on how much gas they purchase,
“He’s apparently game for that,” the highway lobbyist said, adding that Shuster’s words and deeds hold much promise for transportation advocates. “Everything I’ve seen has been extraordinarily positive.”
“Shuster is a transportation expert in his own right,” said another lobbyist who also requested not to be named. “He became chairman because he knows his stuff.”
Shuster’s tenure as chairman will not only include work on a new multi-year highway reauthorization bill, but also on legislation to reauthorize and fund water infrastructure and rail programs.
Shuster is somebody who will likely “drive the legislative agenda very hard,” the expert said, but will not ignore input from across the aisle when putting legislation together.
“I expect he’ll do so in a very bipartisan manner,” the expert said.
House Democrats complained that they were shut out of discussion of Mica’s transportation reauthorization bill and the resulting bitterness created a prolonged mudslinging match on the House floor.
Shuster has also put together a staff that transportation advocates approve of, beginning with his proposed chief of staff Chris Bertram, who has served multiple tours on the Hill and also worked as chief financial officer of both the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Bertram’s knowledge and skills are “excellent,” and he is “a good choice” to lead the committee staff, according to policy advocates. Shuster will also keep on 10-year committee veteran Jim Tymon as his senior advisor and Jennifer Hall will remain as chief counsel. Shuster said he will continue adding staff in the coming weeks.
House leadership announced last week that legislative work would begin Jan. 3.