Chambers of commerce in 42 states want Congress to take action on infrastructure investment and they want a long-term plan.
Lawmakers should make passing a long-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund and reauthorization of the surface transportation bill “a top legislative priority,” the heads of the chambers write in a joint letter to the Republican leaders of the House and Senate and the chairmen of each chamber’s transportation committee.
“This probably is the first time that this many state chambers have had a joint statement on a big issue like this,” says Webb Brown, chairman of the Council of State Chambers and president of the Montana chamber.
While the assorted chambers don’t weigh in on how Congress should fund the investment, Brown says he plans to broach the subject of raising gas taxes at the next board meeting.
“It’s one of those things we have to discuss and have to consider,” Brown says. “Nobody wants to see an increase in taxes… but it may be that it’s time to look at that.”
The federal gas tax that funds the Highway Trust Fund has been hit on two fronts. It has for years failed to rise with inflation and vehicles are getting better and better fuel economy, meaning drivers need less gas to go as far and therefore are paying less in taxes. Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—unaffiliated with the state council—said it supports a gas tax hike.
The state chambers are far from alone in their call for certainty, too. National and bipartisan groups of cities, mayors, counties, state legislators, state governments and governors have all urged Congress not just to provide infrastructure funding, but to do so in a long-term way.
“Federal inaction and short-term extensions create uncertainty at the state and local levels, which hinders transformative transportation investments and prevents our nation’s economy from moving forward,” those groups wrote to congressional leaders in July.
The state chambers echo that sentiment. In the letter, Brown and 41 other state chamber leaders ask Congress to avoid what they did just a few years ago. In 2012, Congress passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, but the funding expires at the end of May. This time, the chambers write, Congress should pass a longer-term and well-funded law:
One of America’s greatest strengths is our ability to create diverse networks of transportation infrastructure to cheaply and efficiently move goods and services around the nation. In order to compete with our economic advantage, other nations are making historic investments in their own transportation infrastructure. China, India, and Europe spend about 9%, 8%, and 5% of their gross domestic product, respectively, on infrastructure investment. Meanwhile, infrastructure investments in the United States have declined to a mere 2.4% of GDP.
In a 2013 report, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a D+ grade on its infrastructure “report card,” based on ratings by state civil engineers. Getting the nation’s infrastructure to working order would require $3.6 trillion by 2020, they found.
“Our deteriorating national infrastructure is not solely a state issue or a federal issue,” the chamber leaders write. “It is not a small business or a large business issue. It is not a Democratic or a Republican issue – it is an American issue that directly affects our ability to compete in the global marketplace and provide financial security for millions of middle-class American families. We urge you to make infrastructure investment a top priority.”
The letter is addressed to House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe.