WASHINGTON — Crafting an infrastructure funding measure aimed at advancing the country’s economy should lead the legislative agenda for Congress this year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Feb. 23.
Snyder, a Republican, emphasized that a robust transportation network designed to improve connectivity along freight and commuter corridors would enhance productivity and improve quality-of-life standards across municipalities.
“We need to invest more in infrastructure, and we’ve done that in Michigan,” Snyder said, at an event here hosted by Politico that preceded the National Governors Association Conference. “We need to smartly invest and we need to pay for it in an appropriate fashion.”
Snyder joined other governors at the White House Feb. 26, where a discussion about infrastructure was overshadowed by concerns over school safety.
This morning, President Trump welcomed about 40 of the Nation’s governors to the White House for a business session covering infrastructure, workforce development, opioids, school safety, and other important issues facing America in the year ahead. pic.twitter.com/ue6JZ4NGDM— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 26, 2018
The White House recently unveiled what it called legislative “principles” calling for $200 billion in federal funds with the aim of achieving $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments over 10 years, primarily through nonfederal funds. The White House proposal also would provide $50 billion in grants to governors planning rural projects, as well as streamline the construction permitting process from 10 years to two years. Tolling also is endorsed in the Trump infrastructure outline.
While Trump is said to have endorsed an increase in fuel taxes when he met with lawmakers at the White House on Feb. 14, the Council of Economic Advisers’ annual report to the president highlighted a vehicle miles traveled fee as a sound alternative to boosting fuel taxes. The fee concept is under review in Oregon.
“The declining revenue productivity of existing gasoline taxes has led policymakers to consider other options for funding highways,” according to the report, published Feb. 21. “One innovative approach is to consider supplementing or replacing fuel taxes altogether with a user fee more closely related to a consumer’s use of the system, such as, in the present context, a tax on vehicle miles traveled.”
The hard part, when you get into an election year, is legislators tend not to want to vote for anything that’s an increase.
Gov. Rick Snyder
Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, suggested during a Feb. 22 meeting with reporters that there could be limits to fuel taxes’ long-term viability. “If we’re all driving around in [all-electric] Teslas, then, how is the gas tax going to pay to fix the potholes because there’s no one using gasoline anymore?” he said.
Congressional transportation leaders have stopped short of endorsing the White House’s infrastructure outline, with Republicans pushing back on whether to increase the federal fuel tax. Conservative-leaning groups also have opposed calls for a fuel tax increase. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have yet to announce legislative markups on infrastructure legislation.
Snyder acknowledged a vote to raise fuel taxes could put lawmakers facing tough elections in a predicament.
“The hard part, when you get into an election year, is legislators tend not to want to vote for anything that’s an increase,” Snyder said.
In 2016, Michigan legislators backed a state fuel tax increase which went into effect last year. Both the gas and diesel taxes were raised to 26.3 cents per gallon. Michigan is not alone in raising its taxes at the pump. More than two dozen states recently voted to raise gas and diesel taxes. Governors cited funding uncertainty at the federal level for supporting their increases.
“There’s a bunch of infrastructure things that we need to invest in, and we need the federal government to partner more,” Snyder added.
Congress last signed off on fuel tax increases in 1993, when it approved an 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax and a 24.4-cents-per-gallon diesel tax. But those rates no longer meet the demands of the Highway Trust Fund, an account created to help states fund maintenance and construction projects.