President Trump told members of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee that lawmakers can find funds to pay for a major infrastructure investment program out of a pending tax overhaul, and could perhaps combine those measures, news reports said.
That, along with reports that Trump also told lawmakers he is still pushing for an infrastructure plan while aides said they continue to develop an administration proposal, raised the issue's profile at a time that some observers felt a project funding program might be pushed well into 2018.
Congress is working on a number of major legislative goals or requirements that could push ahead of infrastructure, including ongoing healthcare proposals, negotiating a broad fiscal 2018 government spending plan and trying to work out deals related to immigration to avoid a potential government shutdown when current government funding expires in December.
With all that as well as a push to enact tax cuts, some lawmakers and stakeholders have begun to think the promised but long-delayed infrastructure proposal might simply wait until next year. However, that timing could cloud its prospects for success as Congress gears up for a major round of elections to determine who controls the House and Senate in 2019 and 2020.
Reports said two groups of senators met separately with officials at the White House on Oct. 18, as Commerce Committee Republicans met with aides to discuss a potential infrastructure package and Finance Committee members from both parties hudded with the president on tax reform.
While the primary focus of both chambers is currently to reduce tax rates and simplify the code, many groups, including ARTBA, believe tax reform remains the most appropriate legislative vehicle for permanently addressing the HTF’s revenue shortfall. All trust fund revenue enhancements over the last 30 years have come as part of a broad tax or budget measure.
Accordingly, House Highways & Transit Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) sent a Sept. 28 letter to tax reform leaders supporting inclusion of a HTF fix as part of tax reform. It reminded leaders of the June 12, 2017, letter that 253 bipartisan members of the House signed asking for the same thing. In addition, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) recently said he was “open to” including a revenue stream in tax reform.
Given the ongoing interest in Congress and President Trump’s prioritization of upgrading the nation’s infrastructure network, it is now incumbent upon all of us to keep the heat on lawmakers. When you talk to members of your congressional delegation in coming weeks, the message is simple: enact a stable, growing, user-based and permanent HTF revenue stream to support surface transportation improvements.