Six Tennessee congressmen support effort to secure 'long term solution' for federal highway funding

Six Tennessee congressmen support effort to secure 'long term solution' for federal highway funding

June 20th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann speaks Tues., June 6, 2017, during the ground breaking ceremony at the site for the new Erlanger Children's Hospital on Third Street in Chattanooga, Tenn. The $40 million, three-story building on the corner of Third and Palmetto streets is scheduled to open in 18 months.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

NASHVILLE — Six of Tennessee's nine congressmen have signed on to a letter in which a majority of U.S. House members are urging the chamber's top tax writers to provide a long-term "fix" for keeping the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent instead of last-minute "stopgap measures."

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Chattanooga Republican, was among the 253 representatives signing the letter, initiated by Reps. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and Eleanor Norton, D-D.C., the chairman and ranking minority member, respectively, of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

The letter does not mention a gas tax increase or specify other potential revenue sources to shore up the fund.

Document: Highway Trust Fund letter

Six of Tennessee's nine congressmen signed this letter in which a majority of U.S. House members are urging the chamber's top tax writers to provide a long-term "fix" for keeping the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent.

But it does urge the leaders of the Ways and Means Committee, who are already working on a general tax overhaul, to develop a "long-term, dedicated, user-based revenue stream" to address the Highway Trust Fund's "structural deficit."

The letter was sent last week.

"While recent laws authorizing the federal surface transportation programs have greatly improved the effectiveness and efficiency of these programs, Congress has relied on general fund transfers and other offsets from federal resources unrelated to the surface transportation programs since 2008," the letter says.

If Congress doesn't resolve issues before the current federal FAST Act expires in 2020, lawmakers "will be required to either pass more short-term stopgap measures or provide additional offsets," the letter warns.

The letter also says steady funding for "a safe, modern, and efficient transportation network is critical to the economic success of this country" and later cautions businesses and states, among others, could be harmed if transportation funding isn't put on sounder financial footing.

Fleischmann spokesman Connor Ingram said in a Monday statement the congressman "joined the letter to help keep the issue at the forefront of consideration by the Ways and Means Committee.

"A long-term solution is a significant challenge and rising to meet that challenge will require Congress to consider various options," Ingram said. "Among the options currently being advocated by the Congressman are repatriation of overseas taxes, which would provide a desperately needed shot in the arm to improve our infrastructure, and expansion of public-private partnerships."

Besides Fleischmann, other Tennessee congressmen signing the letter were Republicans John Duncan of Knoxville, a senior member of the House Transportation Committee; Phil Roe of Johnson City and David Kustoff of Memphis. Both of Tennessee's Democrat representatives, Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis, signed the letter.

Not signing the letter were three other Tennessee Republican representatives: Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg, Diane Black of Gallatin and Marsha Blackburn of Franklin.

Last raised in 1993, the federal excise tax on gas is 18.4 cents per gallon, while diesel is set at 24.4 cents. The tax, which is not indexed to inflation, raises an estimated $35 billion annually.

But over the years, Congress has increasingly relied on non-fuel tax revenues to bolster the trust fund, a good portion of which is shared with states.

Republican President Donald Trump, who has touted public-private partnerships on major infrastructure projects, last month also expressed openness to raising fuel taxes.

This spring, the Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly approved the state's first fuel tax increases since 1989. Over a three-year period, it will raise levies on gas from 21.4 cents per gallon to 27.4 cents, while diesel will rise from 18.4 cents to 28.4 cents per gallon.

The proposal was part of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's IMPROVE Act, which seeks to boost stagnant state transportation funding and accelerate work on nearly 1,000 interstate, highway, road and bridge projects while infusing new funds for local governments.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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