WASHINGTON — With members of Congress back in their home districts and spring signaling the start of construction season, transportation industry groups are launching campaigns with the hope of forcing lawmakers to pass a long-term transportation bill.
The American Public Transportation Association declared Thursday to be Stand Up For Transportation Day, recruiting about 350 partners across the country to push Congress to renew transportation funding. Organizations hosted rallies around the country to call attention to the issue, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio on the subway Thursday morning to support the cause.
“This country has been on a 30-year infrastructure vacation,” APTA chair Phil Washington said in a conference call with reporters. “It’s way past time for the U.S. government to return from this vacation and get back to nation building in our country.”
As part of its push, the association created a toolkit for organizations to join in the lobbying effort. It included everything from a list of talking points to a suggested blog post and press release.
But APTA’s rallying call was light on specifics, demanding only a “long-term” funding plan for transportation with no exact plan for how to pay for it.
“That’s Congress’s job,” Washington said.
The Highway Trust Fund currently delivers about $50 billion to state and local governments for transportation annually, funded mostly through the federal gas tax. Congress hasn’t increased the tax since 1993, and the fund runs an estimated $16 billion deficit every year.
The trust fund’s spending authorization is set to expire May 31, and any remaining money would likely run out in July or August, The Hill reported last week.
In addition to APTA, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association joined the highway spending debate, using its announcement last week that 61,000 bridges in the U.S. are structurally deficient to pressure lawmakers to invest more in transportation.
The association encouraged its members to confront their Washington representatives about the Highway Trust Fund during the two-week April recess. It created a mobile app to help Americans send transportation-specific messages to members of Congress.
“Elected officials can’t just sprinkle fairy dust on America’s bridge problem and wish it away,” the association’s chief economist Alison Black said in a statement. “It will take committed investment by legislators at all levels of government.”
ARTBA rescheduled its annual fly-in lobbying event to next week so participants can meet with legislators before the May 31 deadline. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, are scheduled to address the transportation members Tuesday, an association spokeswoman said.
Adding to the lobbying push, Dennis Slater, president of the Wisconsin-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers, wrote an opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday that singled out Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. Slater called on Ryan to pass a long-term transportation-spending bill, either through increasing the gas tax or another way.
“Another short-term bill will hurt Wisconsin jobs and the economy,” Slater wrote. “When Congress returns, we need Ryan and his colleagues to figure out a way to give our state the long-overdue certainty it deserves.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for a long-term spending bill, but plans for action have broken down along partisan lines.
The White House delivered a six-year proposal to Congress late last month that would tax some overseas earnings to fund an increase in transportation spending.
Shuster said his party members would likely take issue with such a tax.
“Probably doesn’t happen with our guys,” he said during a public discussion with Foxx.
Meanwhile, some Republicans have gathered behind legislation that would cut all mass transit and alternative transportation programs from the Highway Trust Fund. The mass transit cuts alone would reduce fund’s annual deficit by more than half, but APTA estimated they would have a $227 billion negative impact on the nation’s economy.
Industry groups have supported increasing the gas tax, though neither the White House nor Congress appears to be seriously considering that option to continue funding state and local transportation projects.
“To say that we’re dependent upon it … is an understatement,” Thomas Prendergast, chair and CEO of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority, said in the conference call. “It’s critical we have federal support; it’s critical that funding streams that were once sustainable will be replaced with other ones that will be sustained in the long term.”
Reach reporter Sean McMinn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-1488. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.