Ag Policy Blog

Life is an Unfunded Highway

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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I have to find symbolism where I can get it, even if it means cranking up Tom Cochrane's "Life is a Highway." Don't bring up the Rascal Flatts version, which is like a highway with a bridge that is washed out.

So I thought it was somewhat interesting that as I'm touring agriculture this week along a small piece of a famous highway that the White House is focusing on highway infrastructure this week. Key senators on Monday also released their proposal for reauthorizing the highway bill as well.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leaders issued a news release Monday announcing the bill text and committee meeting for the highway bill, known as MAP-21, or Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. (Seriously, what would Congress do without minions to craft legislative acronyms for legislation?)

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The Senate proposal would spend $330 billion over six years on infrastructure and would seek to consolidate some Department of Transportation programs. It would also provide new money for projects considered to have regional or national significance. Some funds would be set aside specifically for rural areas as well.

One thing the Senate bill doesn't do is address the long-term dwindling of the Highway Trust Fund. The trust fund comes from fuel taxes, but has dwindled in recent years because of increased fuel efficiency in vehicles as well as the recession that caused long-distance highway travel to decline. Lawmakers have not come up with solutions to prop up the trust fund mainly because of resistance to raising fuel taxes or look at alternatives to fuel taxes.

The White House released an analysis Monday arguing for the need for spend more on highway infrastructure. The analysis states 65% of major roads are rated as "less than good condition" while one in four bridges require significant repair or upgrades to handle traffic.

The White House also stressed that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money by September. Absent legislation, states will be forced to delay or stop work on some highway and bridge projects as well as mass transit projects.

President Obama is proposing spending $302 billion over four years on infrastructure projects. That's a 37% increase in spending. The president would pay for this play by "using one-time revenue and reforming our business tax system." The president's tax proposal would generate roughly $150 billion more in taxes, but is unlikely to receive backing in Congress.

The president will travel to New York on Wednesday to make his case about boosting infrastructure spending.

White House analysis:…

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