PIN

Political Information Network

This is a forum to distribute educational information on political issues or positions and it is up to the reader to do what they want with the information. ASHE Great Lakes Region does not fund raise or support a particular candidate.

2021 January PIN Update

What a year 2020 has been.  Despite the slow progress on a transportation bill under the Trump administration, changes are on the horizon.

At the end of September, a government funding bill extension was passed to keep the government running until December 11, 2020.  In addition, the FAST act was extended for one year at the end of September, however it was not funded.  Since the second COVID stimulus package was being delayed by Congress, the government funding extension was pushed to December 28 and it was paired with the second COVID stimulus package.  This legislation assigned $10 billion from general revenue fund to fund the FAST Act one year extension at current levels of $46.4 billion for core highway programs.  No new PPP money for infrastructure was included in this funding package.

Since the Senate runoff elections in Georgia both went to the Democrats candidates, both houses of Congress and the White House will have Democrat control for the next two years.   With a new presidency, the new Secretary of Transportation will be former Mayor and Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg.  First on the agenda is to address the Highway Trust Fund, which will be bankrupt in April, 2021.  He will work to implement Biden’s plan, Build Back Better, that would outlay $2 trillion over the next four years to address infrastructure needs. These investments would be focused on roads, bridges, rail, and transit, along with funds for broadband access, energy, wastewater, housing, innovation, and healthcare.  Included in that would be an immediate $50 billion infusion to “jump-start the repair of our highways, roads, and bridges.” saying it would be “a transformational investment in our country’s infrastructure and future.

While events on January 6 at the US Capital has saddened the ASHE PIN, there is hope that our country will survive.  Please pray that this divide that has gotten wider, deeper, and more painful, can be healed so that the country can move to matters desperately needed by the country, such as a transportation bill. 

2020 September PIN Update

The transportation industry is approaching a perfect storm.  The pandemic has yielded state and local DOT’s seeing a drop in revenue from the gas tax due to the decrease in traffic from the stay at home/work from home orders.  From March 1 to May 31, ODOT District 8 saw an average 33% decline in traffic volumes.  ODOT receives 91% of its revenue from the state motor fuel tax and has seen a $157M decline in revenue from March, 2020 to August, 2020 from COVID related actions.  This decrease in the DOT budgets has led to layoffs in the transportation design industry as projects have been postponed or delayed.  The Ohio Department of Transportation’s TRAC funding program has been cancelled for 2020 and several large construction project have been delayed. Public agencies have instituted hiring freezes.  Several states, such as Texas and Michigan, are diverting up to 25% of their gas tax revenue to other programs, such as education.  While President Trump and the House Democrats support a stimulus package that included infrastructure, the Senate Republicans have refused to include the AASHTO-backed $37B stimulus package for the transportation industry. It is unknown if traffic volume will rebound to pre-COVID levels to restore gas tax receipts to the DOT’s in the next four years.    To make matters worse, The Fast Act is set to expire on September 30, 2020. While the House and the Senate both produced transportation bills, neither one made it past their committees. Many believe because of the election year, that a one-year extension of the Fast Act at current funding levels will be passed by September 30, 2020. However, the Highway Trust Fund receipts have decreased 79% from May 2019 to May 2020due to COVID and has accelerated the deadline for the Highway Trust Fund insolvency to April of 2021.  So even if an extension is passed, funding from the Highway Trust Fund will not be able to cover the needs.  Many DOT’s, such as Ohio, are not expecting any federal funding and have adjusted their program accordingly. 

What can ASHE do about this?  Contact your Congressional Leaders with a message that the transportation industry needs to be included in any future stimulus package. 

Senate link: https://www.senate.gov/senators/index.htm

House link:  https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

UPDATE:  House passes bill to prevent government shutdown, extend FAST Act highway funding

With the nation’s main funding mechanism for highway projects set to expire September 30, the U.S. House passed a measure September 22 that would extend the program for a year. The extension was included in a bill to avert government shutdown October 1 by funding the government through December 11. The bill passed with bipartisan support in a 359-57 vote after the House Speaker and the Treasury Secretary reportedly reached a compromise to keep the government running. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The one-year ’FAST Act’ extension involves transferring $13.6 billion from the government’s general fund to the Highway Trust Fund to maintain it’s solvency, The bill calls for keeping spending at current levels – with no boost for inflation – of $47.1 billion for highways, $12.3 billion for transit and $14 billion to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

2020 June COVID-19 ASCE Update

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take hold of our nation, state departments of transportation (state DOTs) have seen a dramatic revenue loss as Americans follow stay-at-home orders.

To combat these losses, earlier this month the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) urged Congress to provide $50 billion in emergency relief to combat the projected revenues losses as a result of COVID-19. ASCE joined AASHTO in calling for support for state DOTs sending its own letter to Congressional Leadership last week.

The $50 billion revenue request is intended to provide an immediate backstop to state DOTs in order to prevent major disruptions in their ability to operate and maintain state transportation systems during the ongoing pandemic. Currently, state DOTs are estimated to lose approximately 30% of transportation revenues over the next 18 months. The $50 billion request is based on how state DOTs collect revenue, which under 2018 numbers included: 43% ($78.4 billion) in highway user fees and tolls, 23% ($42 billion) in federal grants, 18% ($33.6 billion) in other state funding, 13% ($23.8 billion) in bond issuance, and 3% ($4.7 billion) in payments from local governments. While this total includes around $112 billion in state DOT revenue a current, and growing, 30% reduction in transportation revenue would lead to a near $50 billion revenue shortfall.

Currently, our nation’s road and bridges are significantly underfunded, resulting in a $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge capital needs. The bulk of the backlog ($420 billion) is in repairing existing highways, while $123 billion is needed for bridge repair, $167 billion for system expansion, and $126 billion for system enhancement. Additionally, despite increasing demand, transit systems have been chronically underfunded resulting in a $90 billion rehabilitation backlog. Under the current pandemic, these figures are likely to grow, widening our infrastructure funding deficit.

Please take a moment to contact your Members of Congress and urge them to provide state DOTs with emergency relief to keep transportation projects moving forward.

ASCE Link to Article

2020 May PIN Update

The ASHE PIN wishes all of you to stay safe in this uncertain time.   With many of us working from home and social distancing, the traffic volumes have dropped as much as 60% on the nation’s roadways.  This drop in traffic has reduced air pollution and spurred wildlife to take to the streets.  It has also reduced the motor fuel users fee that is collected by our federal and state governments.  While Congress has passed the CARES act to provide stimulus to businesses to help them in this time of quarantine, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has asked Congress for a $50B appropriation to state governments to use on highway programs.  However, the $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House last week only included a $15B appropriation that would allow the money to be used not only for broad highway and bridge capital projects but also for administrative and operations expenses, including salaries of employees (including those employees who have been placed on administrative leave) or contractors, information technology needs, and availability payments.   Nearly all of the $15B would be distributed to the states via the standard federal-aid highway funding distribution formula, which means Ohio would get $500,600 from this aid.  While the House has passed this legislation, Senator Mitch McConnell has said that infrastructure will not be part of Congress’s next coronavirus relief package, even as President Trump has pushed for it to be included.   He said he was interested in passing an infrastructure bill, it was “unrelated” to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  Without his support, Coronavirus stimulus funding for infrastructure is unlikely.  Many states are reacting similarly to Ohio, which needs to balance their budget.  They are pushing construction and design projects alike out a few months to the next fiscal year.  However, the true nature of the impact of the drop in motor fuel tax won’t be felt until the third quarter of 2019 unless highway stimulus is passed by Congress.  Several organizations are conducting write in campaigns for this to happen. 

What can ASHE do about this?  Email your Congressional Representatives and let them know that the transportation industry needs stimulus monies to prevent an industry slump.

2020 March PIN Update

After the Super Tuesday election, the democratic field of candidates have shrunk to just two candidates, former Vice President Joe Bidden and Senator Bernie Sanders.  The Biden transportation plan proposes to immediately spend $50 billion over the first year of his Administration to kickstart the process of repairing our existing roads, highways, and bridges. In addition to sending these funds to states, some of the dollars will go directly to cities and towns that own and run most of our roads. Biden will also expedite permitting, so that projects can break ground faster. However, a funding plan on where the new revenues will come from has not been put forth for highway spending.  Biden did not mention the use of an Infrastructure Bank, but wants to utilize the federal loan program and to improve and streamline the loan process for rail infrastructure.  Biden wants to focus on the Northeast Corridor on higher speeds that will shrink the travel time from D.C. to New York by half and completing the California High Speed Rail project. He wants to build high speed rail system that will connect the coasts for both passenger and freight transportation.  Biden supports infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, riders of e-scooters, and other micro-mobility vehicles. 

Sanders’ January 2015 infrastructure bill (S. 268, 114th Congress) would have transferred $600 billion over eight years from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund, which would have allowed $425 billion in above-baseline spending in addition to ensuring baseline solvency. His plan did not mention of the federal loan program but a Sanders proposes the creation a National Infrastructure Bank to make loans, capitalized with $25 billion in budget authority. Sanders plans on spending $607 billion investment in a regional high-speed rail system would complete the vision of the Obama administration to develop high-speed intercity rail in the United States however, the plan makes no mention of freight rail.  The Sanders plan does not mention pedestrians, cyclists, riders of e-scooters, and other micro-mobility vehicles.

Neither democratic candidate mentioned of bond financing, the gas users fee, or the vehicle miles traveled as options for funding of their transportation plan.

President Trump’s transportation plan has not changed since it was presented a few years ago.  As you recall, his outline for a new infrastructure bill is not limited to transportation projects, but includes all infrastructure, including water ports, airports, and railroad, to name a few.  The outline calls for $200B in federal funding over the next 10 years.  This money is divided into of pots of $100B each.  The first pot is assigned to standard funding mandated by law, such as the Highway Trust programs.  This funding would continue to utilize the traditional 80-20 funding split.  However, it is the other $100B that has everyone talking.  This outline lays out new ideas, where public-private partnership and non-traditional funding sources can shine.  The Infrastructure Incentive Initiative program would only provide a 20% federal match, requiring the locals to come up with the 80% match for core infrastructure projects.  Rural infrastructure would be a focus with investments to facilitate freight movements, to improved access to reliable and affordable transportation, and to improve access to high-speed broadband.  The Transformative Project Programs would provide $20B for innovative projects not currently supported by the market, such as Hyperloop.  The TIFFIA program would be expanded to provide funding for water port and airport infrastructure.  Passenger facility charges at airports and rail facilities would be expanded for the good of those facilities.  Private Activity Bonds, comparable to municipal bonds, could be used for broadband, flood control, and energy projects.  Tolling for new road expansion and rest area commercialization could aid interstate projects. Capital Investment Grants can have a 50% match for transit purposes.  While these new funding ideas were presented, streamlining processes was also addressed.  Projects requiring only a 20% federal match would not be required to follow federal processes.  The NEPA timeline would be altered as well, in that utilities could be relocated and right of way acquisition could start in advance of a final NEPA approval.  An environmental challenge to a NEPA ruling is limited to 150 days instead of 3 years.  While this outline presents new ideas, it lacked what everyone was hoping for, a funding stream solution.  President Trump said that he would support a 25-cent increase in the gas users fee.

While there is rumors of a transportation bill passing Congress this year, the ASHE PIN believes it is doubtful as bills like this have trouble going through all of the steps necessary during election year.  In 2021, the highway industry will be starting over again with new legislators and possibly a new president.  We urge you to review each possible candidate and their plan for transportation so that you can make a wise voting decision in November.

2020 January PIN Update

The ASHE PIN was relieved that the federal government passed the legislation to avoid a government shutdown at the end of last year and that the appropriation for the FAST Act for the next fiscal year was also passed.  However, as the FAST Act expiration is approaching on September 30, 2020, and with the state of Congress, the impeachment of the President, and the upcoming presidential election in 2020, many think  that the FAST Act will be extended for one year to September 30, 2021.  However, the age old question still remains is how can we find funding for the Highway Trust Fund.  While ‘vehicle miles traveled’ is being explored by numerous states in the western part of the country, no alternate funding source besides the gasoline users fee has been brought up as a viable method to collect monies for the Highway Trust Fund. 

On the campaign trail, democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has released a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would be rolled out over 10 years.  Among specifics, the funding for the BUILD program would be doubled, a new $3 billion grant program for transportation projects of national significance “to facilitate collaboration across states and regions” would be created, a $50 billion grant program for states to repair bridges would be created, as well as a promise to inject $165 billion into the Highway Trust Fund to ensure it remains solvent through 2029.