U.S. Senate Committee Holds Hearing On Highway Trust Fund Solvency

Last week, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing titled “Long-term Solvency of the Highway Trust Fund: Lessons Learned from the Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives Program and Other User-based Revenue Solutions, and How Funding Uncertainty Affects the Highway Programs.”

The Committee heard from Joseph Kile Ph.D., Director of Microeconomic Analysis, Congressional Budget Office; Jack Basso, Chair, Mileage Based User Fee Alliance; Patricia G. Hendren Ph.D., Executive Director, The Eastern Transportation Coalition; Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Policy, Reason Foundation and Douglas Shinkle, Transportation Program Director, National Conference of State Legislatures.

Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) spoke about the need to reach a compromise on surface transportation legislation but noted three principles that should be incorporated:  (1) investment is needed in infrastructure; (2) resiliency and climate change should be addressed in the bill; and (3) those who use infrastructure should help pay for it.

Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) stated that passing a bipartisan surface transportation reauthorization bill is a “top priority” for her as Ranking Member who emphasized the traditional bipartisan nature of the committee’s approach to surface transportation and laid out her priorities for the bill, including: (1) fiscally responsible long-term investment in roads and bridges; (2) flexibility for states and communities; (3) safety; (4) surface transportation system resiliency; and (5) innovation. Ranking Member Capito noted the need for a bipartisan, long-term solution for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) shortfall and expressed concern about President Biden’s proposed tax increase.

Broadly, the hearing focused on the HTF shortfall and possible solutions. Both parties agreed that there is both a need for infrastructure investment and a predictable funding source.

Similarly, both parties agreed to the concept of a user-pays system and the value of vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) programs, although they differed on some of the specific policy elements.

While most Members agreed that electric vehicles needed to pay their fair share for road usage, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) expressed concern that electric vehicles would be forced to pay a higher user fee rate.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) asked about the impact of COVID-19 on fuel tax collections and whether HTF projections consider a potential shift to more telework while Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) asked about congestion pricing.

Meanwhile, Republicans are expected to introduce their own infrastructure bill to counteroffer President Biden’s proposal. The plan is expected to be in the range of $600 to $800 billion, more targeted in scope and funded by unspecified user fees.

Republicans have also lamented Biden’s infrastructure package for spending more on EVs than roads and bridges.

            Click Here to watch the hearing and for written testimony.

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