Infrastructure bill may not pass until lame duck session, if then

With the U.S. Senate under pressure to address immigration and pass an FY 2018 budget, infrastructure has again been put on the back burner.


Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the second highest Republican in the Senate, told reporters the Senate may not pass an infrastructure bill this year. The next day, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) said infrastructure might be addressed in a lame duck session after the midterm elections. He was speaking to a meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).


Shuster emphasized the need to shore up the Highway Trust Fund, which for many years has fallen short of budget needs for the nation’s highways. One reason is that the fuel tax has not been raised since 1993.


Shuster made the case for a hike in the fuel tax, but some Republicans refuse to consider the idea. Others say privately they would consider it if President Trump pushed for it so as to give them political cover. Although Trump endorsed a 25-cent-a-gallon increase in a meeting with lawmakers, according to Democratic Senator Tom Carper, he has said very little publicly.

A large increase in the fuel tax could change new-vehicle sales, which are increasingly moving toward crossovers. Their fuel economy is generally better than SUVs, but not as good as passenger cars. But it’s widely understood that the nation’s highways and other infrastructure are in terrible shape, consistently earning a grade of D from the American Society of Civil Engineers


President Trump’s infrastructure proposal, which has been released with little detail, would use $200 billion of federal money over 10 years to leverage another $800 billion in private investment.  Many doubt whether a largely privately funded plan could adequately address the nation’s infrastructure problems – and that’s assuming that Congress would approve the $200 billion, which is a big “if.”


The Trump administration has expressed interest in an alternative funding idea, a tax on vehicle miles traveled, like the tax in Oregon. Shuster was skeptical about that idea when he spoke at the AASHTO meeting.

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