By Madeline Fox

WASHINGTON — Congress must move quickly to pass a long-term, robust federal surface transportation bill, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Wednesday.

Foxx, speaking before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urged action on Grow America, the six-year, $478 billion transportation initiative proposed by President Barack Obama in his 2016 budget. The plan is an updated version of the Grow America Act of 2014, a four-year, $302 billion plan the Obama administration submitted last year to Congress. It did not pass.

The updated plan would fix the ailing Highway Trust Fund, which was sustained through May by a 2014 spending bill, authorizing an emergency transfer of money into the gas-tax supported fund.

The Highway Trust Fund has been veering closer to bankruptcy since 1993, the last time the federal gas tax supporting it was raised. The 18.4 cents per gallon tax has not kept up with inflation, and with cars getting increasingly fuel-efficient, it does not bring in enough revenue for necessary infrastructure improvements.

Obama’s proposal would be funded through the repatriation of some of the profits U.S. companies’ accumulate abroad. The plan would tax all profits amassed thus far, not just those brought home, at 14 percent. Foxx said the administration has not and will not come up with an alternative funding plan should repatriation fail in Congress, though he said there will always be a role for the gas tax.

“It [the gas tax] does bring in revenue, it just doesn’t bring in enough revenue to keep the Highway Trust Fund alive,” Foxx said of the tax.

Finding a long-term solution for surface transportation funding has broad, bipartisan backing. Committee member Reid Ribble, R-Wis., said 285 members of Congress have pledged their support.

But how should it be funded?

In addition to the president’s repatriation proposal, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., plans to reintroduce a bill  to nearly double the federal gas tax, while Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have proposed a “tax holiday” allowing companies to pay a tax of just 6.5 percent – far less than the existing tax  — on profits they bring home. The new tax money would support the Trust Fund.

The most recent surface transportation re-authorization law allotted more than $40 billion per year through 2014 to initiatives such as public transportation, highway building, and highway safety.


Foxx said the Grow America Act would address three basic problems U.S. transportation faces: taking care of the system already in place; building new things; and making sure transportation projects are smarter, more efficient, and more effective.

The Grow America Act, while longer-term than previous proposals, is still a short-term fix, only providing funding for the next six years, said committee member John Larson, D-Conn., Larson asked whether Foxx, who came out with a broad transportation plan through 2050 earlier this year, had plans for surface transportation beyond 2021.

“We think it’s important to get something done right now,” Foxx said. “If we can work with you to get something done in the longer term, all the better.”