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Legal issuesMaritimeNewsTrucking

“Problem Solvers” look to break infrastructure standoff

An impasse between Congressional leadership and the Trump Administration on an infrastructure deal has elevated the importance of work being done behind the scenes by a bipartisan coalition on Capitol Hill.

A report released on May 28 by the Problem Solvers Caucus – a 44-member group within the U.S. House of Representatives equally divided among Democrats and Republicans – outlines areas of potential consensus on infrastructure. The report, which the group sees as a template for a “joint effort” on surface transportation and port investment, was issued a week after President Donald Trump cancelled a planned meeting on infrastructure at the White House with Congressional leaders.

“We put this report together because of the striking lack of leadership in Washington focused on solving problems to help people in this issue,” caucus co-chair Tom Reed (R-New York) told FreightWaves. “Though we do not endorse any one of these funding options, we are trying to be productive to add substance to the debate by listing known revenue options to discuss openly and honestly with the American people.”

“Investing in our nation’s infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue – it’s just common sense,” said caucus co-chair Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey), in a statement. “It’s why the Problem Solvers Caucus has put aside partisanship to find a solution to fix our crumbling roads, bridges and tunnels – and the Administration and Congress must do the same. We can’t afford to play political games and keep kicking this problem down the road.”

The caucus places priority on stabilizing Highway Trust Fund revenues, which are generated by the 18.4-cent per gallon federal excise tax on gasoline that hasn’t been increased since 1993. They point out that because it hasn’t been indexed to inflation, construction costs or fuel economy standards, the purchasing power of the tax is worth 40 percent less than it was 26 years ago. Congress has had to resort to supplementing the trust fund since 2008 through transfers from the U.S. Treasury and other federal funds.

The group agreed that one potential solution is to update the tax by indexing it for inflation (either immediately or phasing it in), in addition to a “modest annual registration fee” on electric vehicles “which currently either contribute nothing or contribute significantly less to the Highway Trust Fund than gasoline-powered vehicles,” the report asserts.

In addition, the caucus proposes a user fee based on freight value that would be assessed through waybill taxes, essentially extending the current air cargo tax to trucking services. It also supports pilot projects to help transition to a mileage-based user fee (also known as a vehicle miles tax, or VMT) while assessing existing state and regional pilot projects. “Congress should also consider creating a pilot project to implement a mileage-based user fee on fully automated vehicles,” according to the report.

But despite bipartisan support within the group, getting other Republicans within Congress, particularly in the Senate, to accede to any kind of tax increase will be difficult. Early optimism that Republicans might be willing to give ground on raising the federal gas tax has since waned.

Regarding port infrastructure, the report points out that the U.S. is losing business to Canada and Mexico because of inadequate funding for maintenance dredging to accommodate larger classes of container and other cargo ships.

One solution, the caucus asserts, is to ensure that the harbor maintenance tax – a .125 percent fee on cargo value assessed to cargo owners that import goods into U.S. ports – be fully utilized within the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

Allowing full use of the revenues collected into the fund, a proposal supported by the American Association of Port Authorities, would provide an extra $18.6 billion for maintenance dredging over the next 10 years, a 29 percent increase, the group contends.

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John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

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.

3 Comments

  1. We don’t need anymore caucus’s putting their greedy hands in the pot. What we need is the highway department and the construction contractors that build the roads to be held to a higher standard. The same roads are constantly being repaired in the same areas. What needs to happen is for the individuals that are employed to fix the road be responsible to repair the road at no cost to the tax payer if the road should fail in a 10 year period. We have the Science, the Technology, and all this high dollar equipment sitting around doing nothing but costing the tax payers money. If you aren’t using it sell it and put that money back in the roads not a road fund / slush fund for some Caucus to put their hands in. That’s what’s wrong with everything now. You have people ie Caucuses that are supposed to help the people. All they do is hurt the people by raising our taxes and taxing our goods. The only one making out is the damn bureaucracy. The people can’t get their moneys worth because the misappropriation of funds. Let’s point the finger where it belongs. The drivers of this Great Country can’t even find a decent place to stop and rest. All the rest areas across the U.S. keep closing. (No parking) can’t park in a scale house which is supposed to be a safe haven. ( no parking) most of the truck stops have gone to paid parking ( but they won’t fix their parking lots. Can’t park on ramps. (No parking) But yet the States want to charge truck drivers outrageous tolls to travel on roads. I understand that it takes money to repair the roads. But there is enough money coming out of the trucking industry pocket from the word jump. Figure it out. Every truck in the U.S. pays 2290’s that’s a heavy road usage tax for those that don’t know of 550.00 a year, higher fuel tax, permits, tags, tolls. Where is all this money going to repair the roads. It’s being misappropriated as usual. Then they want to raise taxes and charge more money. I think that every vehicle should pay the same amount of taxes the driver pays, the same tolls and so on. It should not be solely the trucking industry job to support the maintenance and the running of everyone’s Greedy Caucuses and programs that have been broken for years. Fix the problems at hand and not by charging more. Take the abundance of equipment liquidate it and apply the money back to the poorly maintained roads that we have to drive on and try to stay DOT compliant. The truck breaks and DOT wants to put the driver Out Of Service. The trucks breaking due to pot holes and under maintenance roads is not the drivers fault or the companies. States putting up signs that say rough roads and not fixing them should be sued for damages to the trucks. Then The DOT wants to have a blitz. Have a blitz on the highway departments for not fixing the roads. Also if the DOT is gonna have a blitz. Fix your damn scale exit and entrance ramps. There shouldn’t be and pot holes or gorges in your driveway to an inspection station. Then you want to blame the driver for poor maintenance. Let’s point the fingers in the right directions. Voice your opinions. Call the Governors Offices of the States with poor roads, no rest areas for bathroom breaks and mandatory 30 min. Breaks. You can’t plan your trips anymore because what was open last week is probably going to be closed along with the other that we’re already closed. The Appropriate offices responsible for the road maintenance needs to quit misappropriating funds and those that have their hands in the kitty. Get them out. Fix the roads with the money you already have and have collected for years. Quit worrying about your pension and worry about the infrastructure!

    1. It is absolutely disgusting to see. When u travel roads. If a person would pay a little attention. In the last two weeks I have seen road paving going on in the pouring down rain.( what a joke . It will need fixed next year again.) I have seen line painting on soaking wet roads. And have seen 22 workers ,flagman ,bucket truck white hats, all for one red light bulb. Oh and two miles of backed up traffic. Absolute in sanity and all they think is more taxes.

  2. your right…i fume about this stuff alot as an o/o i cringe on most hways i travel . i left lane most of the time but i risk the ticket for the sake of the equipment. to sum it up i survive in a world i have no control over just the fact that where having this conversation means millions more are on the same page hope for change and ty for your time . jim …50 years of bad government….trump 2020…it starts with him.

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