When I became 2001 American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) chairman in March, I pledged to continue laying the groundwork for the scheduled 2003 reauthorization of the federal highway and mass transit programs.
I am pleased to report that we have taken a major step in that direction with the completion and subsequent adoption of the ARTBA TEA-21 Reauthorization Task Force Report. ARTBA is the first national group to unveil a comprehensive proposal for the TEA-21 reauthorization and once again.
In a nutshell, ARTBA is calling for a minimum $50 billion annual federal highway, bridge and transit program from 2004-09. This number is based on data in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) 1999 report to Congress on the condition and investment needs of the nation’s surface transportation system. The U.S. DOT report makes clear that a $50 billion annual federal investment is necessary just to maintain current highway and bridge conditions and system performance, when its data are adjusted to reflect anticipated increases in inflation and traffic.
The ARTBA reauthorization proposal provides Congress and the Bush administration with a menu of options to fund a $50 billion per year program. They include:
- Drawing down the balance in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), expected to be $45 billion by FY 2009;
- Eliminating federal motor fuels user fee evasion;
- Crediting interest earned on the HTF balance to the trust fund, as was the case prior to enactment of TEA-21;
- Fostering tax-exempt financing for transportation capital projects and the implementation of innovative financing mechanisms like State Infrastructure Banks and regional transportation compacts to leverage funds;
- Ending the federal subsidy for ethanol; and
- Indexing the federal motor fuels tax to the Consumer Price Index.
Even if all of these options were utilized, however, they would not generate enough revenue to meet our transportation needs. This is why ARTBA also is recommending—beginning in 2004—an increase in the federal motor fuels excise, or user fee, which would be the first increase in 11 years. Depending on the other funding options utilized, up to a 10 cents-per-gallon increase in the federal highway user fee is necessary. While some don’t want to hear that option, especially given today’s current gas prices, it is clear that an increase in the federal motor fuels excise will be required just to maintain the nation’s surface transportation status quo. And ARTBA will try to build political support for it.
Ready for battle
We are under no illusions. This will be a tough battle. But we welcome and are ready for the challenge. For nearly 100 years, ARTBA has repeatedly been successful in expanding and protecting the transportation construction market to meet the public need. In the mid-1990s, some in Washington said publicly that ARTBA was "tilting at windmills" in pushing for off-budget and guaranteed funding levels for transportation during reauthorization of ISTEA. And yet in 1998 we succeeded. The association also helped achieve increased federal aviation investment in 2000 with AIR-21.
We will fight for $50 billion annual highway and mass transit programs over the next few years because it is the right thing to do—for American families and businesses as well as our industry.
Our effort will succeed only if we are able to mobilize our entire industry—and people from outside our industry—to participate at the grassroots level. We will need your help.
Be sure to share the report’s findings with your representatives in Congress, local chambers of commerce and business groups, state and local transportation officials, local media and other opinion leaders.
Together, we can lay the groundwork to move ahead with reauthorization—and preserve America’s economic vitality into the 21st century and beyond.