- - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Americans and our economy depend on the safety and stability of our nation’s roads, bridges, transit and water systems. The federal government’s commitment to helping build and maintain those systems dates back to the beginning of our country.

It began with President George Washington, who initiated the first federally funded road because he believed in the importance of connecting our country from East to West.

President Dwight Eisenhower transformed our national infrastructure by creating and funding the Interstate Highway System, linking our country like never before. And it was during Ronald Reagan’s presidency that the federal government recognized the importance of investing in public transit systems and authorized Highway Trust Fund dollars for these projects for the first time. They knew the federal government had an obligation to help our cities.

Unfortunately, this legacy of federal investment in our nation’s infrastructure has been forgotten by many in Congress. The condition of our highways, railroads, airports and harbors have fallen into disrepair. We have neglected the engines of commerce and our economy.

Last month, President Trump released his long-awaited infrastructure proposal, which cuts federal investment in transportation and shifts the burden to cash-strapped states, territories and local governments. This plan supports selling off our roads, bridges, transit and water systems, paving the way for new tolls and fees. There is widespread, bipartisan opposition to the president’s proposal.

The president proposes in his FY 2019 budget to cut more than $168 billion from current infrastructure programs that provide a robust federal contribution, ensure good-paying construction jobs, use American iron and steel, and give small businesses a fair chance to compete. The plan also guts bedrock environmental, clean-water and clean-air protections under the guise of accelerating projects. The proposal does not address the serious infrastructure needs facing this country.

That’s why in February House Democrats released “A Better Deal to Rebuild America” — a plan that calls for investment in infrastructure at a level five times larger than President Trump’s. Our proposal offers $1 trillion in federal funding to rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, transit systems, ports, harbors, airports and schools; extend high-speed Internet to every family in America; and put more than 16 million people to work.

But, restoring and upgrading our national infrastructure doesn’t need to be a partisan issue. I’ve introduced three pieces of legislation, two cosponsored by Freedom Caucus members and a third cosponsored by a conservative Republican, that will help to rebuild our nation’s airports, ports, roads, bridges and transit systems. My legislative proposals include:

H.R. 1265 “Investing in America: Rebuilding America’s Airport Infrastructure Act,” cosponsored by Rep. Thomas Massie, Kentucky Republican, which lifts the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge that allows airports to generate billions of dollars locally to rebuild and rehabilitate aging terminals, runways and taxiways to keep pace with the ever-increasing demands of the 21st century.

H.R. 1664 “Investing in America: A Penny for Progress Act,” cosponsored by Rep. Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania Republican, which indexes gas and diesel user fees and bonds the proceeds to generate more than $500 billion to improve our nation’s highways, bridges and public transit systems, and meet future needs through 2030. The increase in user fees is estimated to be one cent per year, and is capped at 1.5 cents per year.

H.R. 1901 “Investing in America: Unlocking the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act,” cosponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania Republican, guarantees the tax currently collected on the value of imported cargo and deposited in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is used for its intended purpose — harbor maintenance — and not to hide the size of the budget deficit. This legislation will provide more than $18 billion for our nation’s coastal and inland harbors over the next decade without raising one more dime in taxes.

These bipartisan solutions would dramatically increase investment in our nation’s infrastructure, spur innovation and economic growth, and create millions of jobs.

It is time for Congress and the Trump administration to get serious about fixing our nation’s infrastructure. The United States used to have a transportation system that was the envy of the world. Now we’ve fallen behind.

If the president and Republican leaders in Congress are serious about making infrastructure a priority, then we have a unique opportunity to make badly needed investments that we have been avoiding for decades. We can provide real investments now that will help us stay competitive in the world economy. Democrats stand determined and ready to get to work, and get America moving again.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, is Ranking Member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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