The U.S. Senate held two hearings this week that focused on the critical role that federal investment in infrastructure can play as the nation recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee heard from local policymakers and industry stakeholders about the importance of investing in our nation’s infrastructure as a means of economic recovery.
First on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee heard from Mr. Randy Guillot, Chairman of the Board for the American Trucking Associations (ATA), and Mr. Ian Jefferies, President and CEO for the Association of American Railroads (AAR). During the hearing, Mr. Guillot shared that ATA estimates that federal and state user fee revenue could be depleted by at least $32 billion over the next year due to COVID-19. This estimate does not include losses to states that also rely on retail sales tax revenue for their transportation budgets. Mr. Guillot expressed that revenue losses could force critical transportation projects to be cancelled and result in more than 400,000 people out of work, while simultaneously accelerating the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). With this in mind, Mr. Guillot emphasized the need to raise the gas tax in order to fix the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), as well as for Congress to pass a reauthorization of our federal surface transportation programs before they expire on September 30th.
On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works (EPW) held a hearing that included testimony from Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky, as well as representatives from two infrastructure stakeholder groups. Mayor Fischer is the incoming President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and testified about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cities, including Louisville’s expected $46 million revenue shortfall this fiscal year and an estimated $69 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year. Mayor Fischer discussed the importance of prioritizing and promoting greater equity in our nation’s infrastructure investments, such as expanding funding for the Surface Transportation Blog Grant program, which gives local officials the ability to direct infrastructure funds to the communities most in need.
Also testifying before the EPW Committee was Mr. Steve McGough, Chairman of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. Mr. McGough testified about the pandemic’s immediate economic impact to state transportation programs and the transportation construction industry, including sharing a number of states and local governments that have announced layoffs and project delays or cancellations. As a response, Mr. McGough urged Congress to pass a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill, noting that the country could not afford to continue to delay infrastructure investments.
ASCE submitted a Statement for the Record to both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee outlining the economic benefits of infrastructure investment and highlighting the need to pass a long-term surface transportation reauthorization. In our statement to the EPW Committee, ASCE called on Congress to address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. ASCE’s statement to EPW goes on to say that “while one-time infusions into our nation’s surface transportation program have had varying degrees of success, investment in a multi-year surface transportation program is a guaranteed way to provide both short-term and long-term economic benefits.” ASCE also noted that “failing to close the [investment] gap risks rising costs, falling business productivity, plummeting GDP, lost jobs, and ultimately, reduced disposable income for every American family to the tune of $9 [per day].”
Finally, across the nation, our future recovery depends on reliable, modern infrastructure to provide a good quality of life for Americans and to support economic growth, and both hearings highlighted this point. There is a unique opportunity during these challenging times, while traffic is minimal and people stay home, to maintain and modernize these critical assets and jump-start job growth.
In the meantime, ASCE continues to work with Members of Congress as they develop further legislation to stimulate our economy and ensure the health and safety of American citizens.