State official worries Trump plan would treat some states unfairly

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WASHINGTON – A state official raised concerns at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday about whether Trump’s infrastructure plan would unfairly treat states that have already raised their gas taxes.

Speaking at the Senate Commerce Committee’s transportation subcommittee hearing on state and local infrastructure needs, state and local officials also questioned the plan's emphasis on tolling and talked about the importance of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which President Trump has proposed eliminating.

The hearing was chaired by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., who introduced the Build USA Infrastructure Act (S. 271) last year to transfer $21.4 billion/year of money into the Highway Trust Fund from fees collected by the Customs and Border Patrol.

Kyle Schneweis, director of Nebraska’s Department of Transportation, is written testimony, praised the president’s proposal to spend $50 billion over 10 years on a Rural Infrastructure Program, $40 billion of which would be used for rural block grants.

But he questioned whether the part of the plan that would reward states with incentive grants if they that come up with new revenue streams for infrastructure projects wouldn’t discriminate against states that have already raised their state gas taxes for that purpose.

“Many state legislatures, including in Nebraska, raised their state gas tax in the past few years to invest in infrastructure,” he wrote. “Asking states to enact additional revenue increase measures is not feasible in those states that have taken similar action in recent years.”

Schneweis said if the plan becomes legislation, it should include a “look-back” provision that gives states and local governments “full credit for projects and funding” if they have already stepped up to the plate and increased their infrastructure revenue.

Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., a subcommittee member, asked Schneweis and Daniel Gilmartin, executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League who also testified, whether residents in their states would support the tolling of interstates, which the Trump plan also proposes.

They both said no.

Rep. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also a panel member, asked about the importance of the TIGER grant program, which can be used broadly for road, transit, maritime and rail projects. Trump has proposed eliminating the TIGER program in his budget requests.

Gilmartin said the public “is demanding moving forward” with TIGER. “Those programs are very important to us,” he said.
The American Public Transportation Association, which was not represented at the hearing, issued a statement on Tuesday calling for the Trump administration to “recognize the vital importance of public transportation to our national transportation system in future rounds of [TIGER] grants.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday awarded $487 million of TIGER grants to 41 recipients for highway, bridge, rail and other projects in 43 states.

During the hearing, Gilmartin reminded everyone that cities are partners of the federal government when it comes to infrastructure.

Local governments, he said, own, operate and maintain 78% of the nation’s road miles, 43% of federal-aid highway miles, and 50% of the nation’s bridge inventory. They also support local transit systems and fund 95% of the nation’s water and wastewater investments, he said.

“Cities and states over the past decade have invested more than $3.8 trillion in municipal bonds, yet as a nation, we are still more than $2 trillion behind in known needs,” he wrote in this testimony.

“Historically, the federal government has invested significantly to build national infrastructure – highways, rail, electricity, water and water resources – while states and cities have built out connections and maintained these assets in partnership with the federal government,” Gilmartin wrote.

But cities in 47 states currently face one or more state limitations on how they raise funds for infrastructure, he added.

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Infrastructure Highway trust fund Government finance Munis Gasoline tax State and local finance Washington DC