“The time to act is now,” reads a letter sent to the president and congressional leaders by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than 40 business and labor groups.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with a coalition of more than 40 businesses and labor groups on Tuesday sent a letter to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders urging them “to immediately resume discussions on America’s failing infrastructure and take legislative action this year.”
“The time to act is now,” the letter reads.
Last month President Trump abruptly ended a second meeting with congressional Democrats about infrastructure after the two sides agreed in April to aim for a $2 trillion spend. Neil Bradley (pictured above), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, said Monday during a press call that he would have been more concerned about the prospects of an infrastructure package had the blowup been about differences in legislation, but “there was no new roadblock … on the issue of infrastructure.”
Instead, he said he was encouraged by progress made earlier in the year in Congress, such as in the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Budget Committee.
Reauthorizing surface transportation programs and the highway trust fund are of “paramount importance,” said Ed Mortimer, the Chamber’s vice president of transportation and infrastructure. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was signed into law in December 2015, expires Sept. 30, 2020, and Mortimer said Congress will have to “come up with an additional $85 [billion] to $90 billion” to reauthorize the program for five years.
“I think at the bare minimum we want to see surface transportation reauthorized for a long term,” Mortimer said. “If we can add additional infrastructure asset classes to this debate, that would be even better, but we’re also realistic of the political process and … it’s up to the leadership in the House and Senate to determine what parts of this package they need to move.”
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing Wednesday to examine the implementation of the FAST Act and “priorities for the Department of Transportation as Congress prepares for surface transportation reauthorization,” according to the committee’s website.
To pay for infrastructure improvements, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has proposed increasing the federal gas tax, which has remained stagnant since 1993. In the first step of its Let’s Rebuild America Initiative, the Chamber’s plan proposes a 5 cent increase per year over the course of five years and is indexed for inflation, which would “raise $394 billion over the next 10 years,” said Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO, on its website.
The letter reads, “Democrats and Republicans in blue, red and purple states across the country have already taken this action, increasing their state gas taxes to finance their share of much-needed infrastructure improvement.”
Thirty states have raised or reformed their gas taxes this decade, including three states — Alabama, Arkansas and Ohio — that have made changes this year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported in May that 13 states have raised gas taxes since 2016, including the Republican-led states of Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.
The majority of Republican lawmakers in each GOP-led state voted to raise the gas tax — ranging from 61% in West Virginia to 86% in Indiana — and at least 92% of Republicans who sought reelection in Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah won. The Chamber reported 76% of Republican lawmakers who sought reelection in West Virginia won.
Bradley said there’s interest from Democrats on the federal level to increase the gas tax, but Republican interest has been quieter.
“What we see in the empirical evidence of what’s happening at the state legislative level is that Republicans aren’t being punished,” Bradley said. “In fact, they’re being rewarded for standing up and addressing what has been a too long ignored priority in communities. We think that same thing will hold true for the president and congressional Republicans should they act.”