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American Shipper

Obama talks infrastructure funding at business roundtable

President Obama said “significant investments” are needed in infrastructure, adding that tax reform is one way to generate revenue for needed improvements.

   During a business roundtable at the White House, President Obama said “significant investments” are needed in infrastructure, and said that tax reform is one way to generate revenue for needed improvements.
   “Infrastructure is one area where we need to go ahead and make some significant investments,” he said, according to a White House transcript of the event.
   “Anybody who travels around the world and looks at what airports outside the United States now look like, and roads and trains and ports and airports now look like,” he continued, “recognize that it makes no sense for us to have a first-class economy but second-class information. And that would not only help accelerate growth right now, it would also lay the foundation for growth in the future.”
   But he added that political gridlock and public perception makes tax reform difficult. The public, he said, is generally in favor of the idea of tax reform, but becomes wary when presented with the specifics. Obama said that he would like to start with corporate tax reform and then move onto the issues with individual tax reform because this one-two process would make it easier to make changes; Republicans, he said, have stated that an all-or-nothing tax plan is the way to go.
   He told the assembled business executives that tax reform and infrastructure spending are linked.
   “The challenge for infrastructure has been that — it’s not that I think my Republican friends don’t want infrastructure. I notice whenever we get a project going, they’re at the ribbon-cutting,” he said. “I think it’s the pay-fors — how do you pay for it. And they’re very sensitive, as you know, to anything that might be construed as a tax.”
   He added that if the administration successfully pushed tax reform through Congress, a big-picture infrastructure bill could also be feasible, but not entirely likely.
   “But it’s hard for me to envision this Congress being able to vote on a big infrastructure bill on its own, because I don’t know where they would get the money for it. I’ve got some proposals, but I don’t think they’re likely to adopt them.”
   Finally, Obama divided infrastructure-revenue generation into a short-term and long-term problem. In the near-term, replenishing the Highway Trust Fund is a pressing need, and the president pledged to get together with Congress to see what can be done for a short-term funding fix. Addressing the topic for the long-term, though, requires a different approach. One idea would be through an increase in the gas tax, but Obama said that’s a lofty proposition.
   “The gas tax hasn’t been increased for 20 years. There’s a reason for that,” he said.
   “I’m going to talk to [Congress] to see what we can do short term and to see whether these bipartisan bills have any legs,” he continued. “But even if we were able to get something done, it would not be the kind of 10-year solution that we need. The best I suspect they could do would be to stagger through another year. And we’ve got to have a better way of planning and executing on infrastructure investment.”

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