Cong. Rick Crawford: Work Continues On Federal Highway Program Options
Written by: Rep. Rick Crawford
Published by: Talk Business & Politics
Editor’s note: Cong. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, author of this guest commentary, is the First District Congressman for Arkansas.
As a member of Congress, I’m charged with being the best steward of our revenues that I can be. In general, I believe the government is spending too much, as evidenced by our current debt crisis.
However, there are projects that are very effective and deserving of our revenues, and our nation’s infrastructure is one. Infrastructure spending provides an almost unparalleled return on taxpayer investment, as it not only employs thousands of Arkansans, but modern infrastructure also encourages businesses to set up shop in Arkansas.
MAP-21 was the last transportation bill passed, and that was back in 2012. We desperately need a modern, updated version that addresses our country’s currently crumbling infrastructure, and perhaps no one knows that better than the Arkansans who live in the First District.
We on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have been working on a long-term, fully-funded comprehensive bill so we can stop passing short-term patches. We have a pretty good idea of what that bill would like, and are working as hard as we can to prepare it for passage. All of us on the committee agree that a long-term, preferably 5-year, bill is the goal.
The challenge we’ve encountered is the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Our debt crisis continues to overextend precious resources for critical projects and it leaves few options at our immediate disposal, many of which are not palatable in this economic environment.
To be successful, a long-term solution must combine a consistent funding mechanism with financial transparency. Our current system, through shortfalls and opaque applications of funding, has lost the trust of Americans, who don’t know where or how their tax dollars are being invested. People in Arkansas don’t want their taxes to go towards urban public transportation in other states; they rightly want their money invested in the highways they rely on every day.
Currently, the primary financier of the trust fund is the federal gas tax, which has remained the same since 1993. Meanwhile, cars have become more efficient and people are driving less, so the fund isn’t being replenished at the rate it once was. Both the Transportation and Ways and Means Committees will have to consider new, creative funding alternatives to find a fiscally sustainable solution to this chronic problem.
At this point, the focus is on finding one or more consistent funding mechanisms, a way to regularly and reliably fund our programs. Since my committee only authorizes transportation programs, the Ways and Means Committee is responsible for finding how to pay for it.
The trust fund was set to expire on May 31, but in order to allow more time to find a more permanent fix, we passed a two-month patch to keep the trust fund afloat. Passage of the patch, HR 2353, was critical in preventing the shutdown of current infrastructure improvement. I’m hopeful the extra time the patch allows will be used wisely by Chairman Ryan and the rest of Ways and Means to find a reliable funding source.
There is a shared commitment between the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and most members of the House to passing a fully-funded multi-year highway bill, but that commitment must bear the fruit of action. Failure to act threatens our general contractors and their employees, suppliers, and puts at risk the jobs that are both directly and indirectly supported by these projects.