This is the heart of the budget season, one in which the new Republican Congress will be tested on its ability to deliver a budget and break the pattern of failure that has prevailed as the House passed budgets that languished in the Senate. In particular the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has embarked on a plan to pass a multi-year budget with bipartisan support as expressed by Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who on the surface would seem to represent polar political philosophies. The administration has proposed a six-year authorization for $478 billion.
Against this background CQ Roll Call's Kellie Mejdrich appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal to provide a status report and analysis of how the project is progressing. She was interviewed by regular Sunday host Steve Scully who remarked that the advent of spring has revealed pothole damage but suggested that the issue is bigger than that.
Mejdrich noted that this year's bill is slightly larger than what the administration proposed last year, but the major question is "whether the road funding issue can be solved."
The primary mechanism for funding highway construction and maintenance is the gas tax, and Mejdrich observed that there is a gap between the revenue and expenditures that for years has been funded by transfers from general revenues.
Scully posted a chart, courtesy of the Tax Foundation, on "gas tax among advanced economies" showing Israel at $4.20/gallon, the Netherlands at $3.79/gal, Italy at $3.67/gal and Greece at $3.37/gal. It might occur to viewers that Greece's low gas tax might be indicative of other problems that have driven it to seek a bailout from the EU. Great Britain's tax is at $3.44/gal, and the U.S. checks in at $0.53/gal.
Mejdrich called this "a major problem" and noted that the last gas tax increase was in 1993, so the buying power of the gas tax has decreased considerably, but she sees "not a lot of will in Congress" for an increase with the economy benefiting on balance from low gas prices.
Scully referred to a Political Playbook luncheon C-SPAN covered last Monday that was moderated by Mike Allen, White House Correspondent for Politico, in which Allen interviewed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. In a clip from that interview, Foxx said, "The transportation system in this country is in a huge ditch, a pothole." Therefore, after 32 short-term measures, it is time for a longer-term bill. (Inhofe and Boxer have been saying the same thing.)
Asked whether the administration can get the proposal enacted in its remaining year and a half, Mejdrich reported that House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Penn., also favors a long-term bill. Therefore, she sees another short-term extension but a possibility for a longer-term bill by the end of the year.
Scully said a common complaint is that some bridges are over 100 years old. Mejdrich then injected the point that the administration bill includes a 14 percent one-time tax on corporate profits held overseas, and Shuster has said he is open to using such a tax to fund infrastructure, perhaps at a lower rate. Mejdrich concluded that short-term action is needed before the trust fund goes insolvent about July 31.
(Archived video can be found here
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