Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and President Obama
America's infrastructure—its bridges, roads, tunnels, sewer systems—is in dire need of repair and replacement. Tuesday afternoon, President Obama sounded the warning yet again, focusing on the Highway Trust Fund, which could soon run out
if Congress doesn't take action:
The president will argue “that by closing unfair tax loopholes for companies that ship profits overseas, we can invest in rebuilding our infrastructure,” according to a White House official.
The president could advocate a plan similar to that offered by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has proposed an $8 billion package that would keep the trust fund operating throughout the end of the year. Wyden’s plan is funded primarily through tougher enforcement of existing tax laws.
True to form, Republicans are suggesting that roads could be paid for by eliminating Saturday mail delivery or by pushing the states to crack down and collect more online sales taxes—in other words, collecting more taxes from corporations to pay for roads is out of the question, but collecting more taxes from people when they order diapers online is just fine. There's not a lot of time to waste
During the first week of August, [Transportation Secretary Anthony] Foxx said, the administration anticipates that the funds will dip below the critical $4 billion threshold (and it anticipates they will run out completely by the end of the month). When the funds fall below that threshold, states will no longer be reimbursed for transportation projects as they send in the bills. Instead, the administration will “implement a new process of cash management” in which states will be paid every two weeks as revenues from the gas tax (which feeds the Highway Trust Fund) come in.
Foxx spoke in largely vague terms about the potential impact that such a change in formula would have. Governors, he said, were “going to have to make judgments based on a more limited allotment of dollars.” In some states, projects would be slowed down. In others they would be stopped altogether. And in others, it might be determined that they should proceed, with the state issuing IOUs in lieu of payments. Overall, Foxx said, the situation was dire.
Slowing down or stopping projects during peak construction season risks leaving them uncompleted as winter arrives and also potentially risks huge numbers of jobs. It's a lose-lose. But we've seen this congressional standoff before, so add roads to the long list of things Democrats have suggested paying for by closing a few corporate tax loopholes and Republicans have suggested paying for by cutting services to working people.