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Business groups try to pull Trump, Congress back to infrastructure (with video)

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With issues like trade wars with China and escalating unrest in the Middle East vying for attention in Washington, business and labor are scrambling to get the White House and Congress back to talking infrastructure before the 2019 legislative calendar runs out.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 40 business and labor groups sent President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders a letter on June 18 that includes a state-by-state cost analysis of taking no action on highway trust fund shortfalls versus raising the gas tax by 25 cents.

The letter comes a month after President Trump cancelled a meeting at the White House with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and others in which there was some hope that funding mechanisms would be discussed. It also comes just a week after the President threatened to cancel his membership in the U.S. Chamber over the group’s opposition to tariffs.

“While disappointed the May 22 White House meeting did not lead to a substantive discussion on infrastructure investment solutions, we remain encouraged by the progress that has been made to fix our country’s failing infrastructure, and remain committed to getting the job done for American families, workers and businesses,” the letter states.

Next year being an election year increases the pressure to get an infrastructure package or a surface transportation reauthorization bill done in 2019, according to policy experts, especially with the Highway Trust Fund set to expire just five weeks before the election.

“We were getting optimistic earlier this year on a broader infrastructure bill, but at this point I’m not so optimistic,” said American Trucking Associations (ATA) Chief Economist Bob Costello, speaking at a shipper conference on June 10. ATA is one of the groups signed onto the White House letter.

Costello noted that while raising taxes is never popular on Capitol Hill, there is a strong case to be made at the state level that raising taxes to pay for roads and bridges is not politically unpopular. “Arkansas just passed – with a Republican legislature and Republican governor – a fuels tax increase. We do not know of any Republican that has been kicked out of office at the state level because they voted for a fuels tax increase.”

According to the group’s analysis – the numbers for which are “illustrative estimates only” – California and New York have the most to gain or lose from action or inaction on infrastructure at the federal level. If no new federal money is appropriated for the Highway Trust Fund, California stands to lose $1.5 billion, but could gain $2.1 billion with a 25 cent gas tax increase. New York would stand to lose $1.14 billion or gain $1.3 billion.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.