Partisan bickering, fueled by the intransigence of conservative members of Congress, is preventing the U.S. from maintaining and expanding its world-class infrastructure, according to a national transportation industry executive.
This is the case even though the transportation industry is prepared to pay higher fuel taxes in order to fund highway, bridge and intermodal connector projects, said Robert Voltmann, president and CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association.
“The transportation industry is the only one that has asked Congress to raise taxes,” Voltmann told the TMW Systems User Conference Sept. 24 in Anaheim, Calif.
Just how bad has it gotten? Voltmann noted that China spent more on a single railroad project than the U.S. did on highway funding for five years. “We have to spend money on infrastructure. We are not keeping up with the rest of the world,” he said.
The U.S. actually has an efficient mechanism in place to collect and disburse funding for transportation infrastructure projects. A federal tax of 18.3 cents per gallon of gasoline, and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel, generates about $34 billion a year for the Highway Trust Fund.
However, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the trust fund could be short of cash by fiscal year 2015 if taxes are not increased or spending is not cut. The transportation industry certainly does not want to see any reduction in infrastructure funding.
Even though the fuel taxes have not been increased since 1993, some members of Congress are so opposed to raising taxes that they oppose even a modest increase to support infrastructure development.
Voltmann said those in Congress who respond to the Tea Party, the “50 most intransigent members of the House,” are most responsible for preventing adequate funding of the nation’s infrastructure needs. However, the Obama administration has also balked at raising the fuel taxes.
This failure of both parties to respond to the needs and wants of the freight transportation sector has industry representatives baffled. The American Trucking Associations, for example, is on record as supporting an increase in the tax.
“I am very concerned about the lack of investment in infrastructure,” Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist, told the TWM Systems conference. “Trucking says, ‘please raise my taxes,” Costello said.
Voltmann sees the impasse on infrastructure funding as a microcosm of the partisan bickering that is crippling Washington today. “We lost our middle,” he said, “but everything about the Constitution is based on compromise.”