By Pete Ruane
President and CEO, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA)
There are two words central to understanding life in the Nation’s Capital these days: perception and reality.
What do I mean?
Perception: President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill was a boon for roads and bridges.
Reality: Only 5.7 percent of the $831 billion measure was allocated to transportation and just 3 percent of that for road and bridge improvements—and that was over a two-year period.
Perception: Hillary Clinton will win the election handily.
Reality: Please re-watch the Jan. 20 inaugural.
Now, many of the same “smart people” who made these statements are acting as if President Donald Trump’s infrastructure package has just been ordered from Amazon.com and will arrive the day after tomorrow.
The reality is the election of President Trump can potentially change the discussion on federal transportation infrastructure investment, given that he has been talking about it since his campaign announcement in 2015, right through his victory speech and inaugural address. He seems interested in a sweeping new vision, whereas since 2005, the focus on Capitol Hill has largely been about repackaging and celebrating the status quo.
While that’s the perception of where President Trump is, we must make it a reality!
The president and his team have talked a lot about infrastructure, and his campaign issued calls for both a $1 trillion and $550 billion package, but they have also made clear repealing the Affordable Care Act, tax reform and the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch are their early top priorities. Other critical issues like the FY 2018 budget and the annual appropriations bills will also help fill the legislative agenda.
With respect to infrastructure, the Trump team’s comments have focused heavily on leveraging private sector dollars and public-private partnerships. However, new U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and designated U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acknowledged during their confirmation hearings that the plan would also need to include public investment.
Ultimately, the election of a new president for whom substantially boosting federal infrastructure investment is a top priority – and whose party also controls both houses of Congress – provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the transportation construction industry.
The challenge is to keep infrastructure investment on the priority agenda of the president and congressional leadership, and make sure that it is also done right! To that end, it is essential that any infrastructure measure include both robust direct federal investment—with a permanent Highway Trust Fund fix as a foundation—and project financing mechanisms.
The tax reform initiative the administration and congressional GOP leaders are planning is the best legislative vehicle to achieve this objective. Don’t forget, all Highway Trust Fund revenue enhancements in the last 30 years have come in tax or budget bills—not transportation measures.
So here’s the industry agenda for the coming months…
If you haven’t already, get to know the BOLD Act, a surface transportation revenue proposal facilitated by ARTBA and devised by a group of industry leaders. ARTBA’s Senior Vice President of Government Relations Dave Bauer (firstname.lastname@example.org) can put this unique proposal in context.
Visit with your members of Congress and their staffs now via phone or through ARTBA’s Grassroots Action Center at www.tmaw.org. Tell them any tax reform legislation needs to include provisions putting the Highway Trust Fund on permanent, solid financial footing.
Support ARTBA’s “Transportation Makes America Work!” program, our all-out communications effort to promote the principles behind the BOLD Act, including significant new investments in the National Highway Freight Network.
Plan on attending the May 16-18 ARTBA Federal Issues Program (FIP) and Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) Fly-In. You’ll hear directly from congressional transportation leaders about where things stand and you’ll also have the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with your representative and senators.
The new president and Congress are providing us with an opportunity, but that’s not the same as a guarantee, just as “perception” often differs from “reality.”
What we do with that opportunity not only has the potential to impact the next two years, but also the outlook for the transportation construction market for decades to come!