Whether it is driving to the grocery store, commuting to work or taking their family on vacation, Americans rely on a complex network of transportation infrastructure — from rural roads to bridges to interstate highways — in order to go about their daily lives.
These surface transportation networks are vital, and I believe it is a core responsibility of the government to ensure our infrastructure safely meets the needs for a mobile, growing and vibrant society.
In the Senate, I am serving my fifth year as the chairman of the Transportation and Safety Subcommittee in the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. In that role, I’ve made it a top priority to both ensure the safety of our surface transportation system and streamline the regulatory obstacles that impede needed infrastructure projects and hinder the movement of people and goods across the country. To do so, I’ve relied on the lessons from my successes as a state senator in the Nebraska Unicameral. Through these successes, we can develop a blueprint at the federal level for funding necessary improvements to transportation infrastructure.
While serving in the Nebraska Legislature, I spearheaded legislation that was later signed into law to give local communities more control over highway construction. That bill tasked Nebraska’s Department of Roads with creating the Federal Funds Purchase Program (FFPP), where counties could voluntarily remit a portion of their federal transportation dollars to the state and in exchange receive funds under more reasonable regulatory requirements. Nebraskans have already reaped the rewards. This program is popular: Every county across the state continues to take advantage of it.
Another initiative I championed at the state level was the Build Nebraska Act, which ensured there is sufficient funding to meet Nebraska’s surface transportation needs by redirecting one-quarter of one cent of existing sales tax receipts toward improving and maintaining Nebraska’s roads. This bill will generate an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue for roads over a 20-year period.
In the U.S. Senate, I am bringing these innovative ideas to the federal level. This year, I reintroduced the Build USA Infrastructure Act, which is modeled on my work in Nebraska. First, it ensures there is continued funding for our roads and bridges. If Congress does not act to reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which allocates federal transportation dollars to states to pay for surface transportation infrastructure, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that by FY 2020 the fund will be exhausted. By the year 2028, the HTF is expected to face a cumulative shortfall of approximately $145 billion. My legislation would directly address the fund’s near-term solvency by directing $21.4 billion annually to the HTF. This revenue comes from customs duties, excise taxes and fees already collected by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on freight and passengers. In other words, this is a revenue option that is available now, has a transportation nexus and would not require establishing a new program or raising taxes. The agency only uses a small portion of this revenue for operations, so allocating it to transportation would not affect CBP’s operating budget.
Building on the FFPP, my bill would also allow states to enter into voluntary state remittance agreements with the Federal Highway Administration. As part of these agreements, states would choose to remit federal highway dollars in exchange for greater control over the design, permitting and construction of an infrastructure project. It does not change the federal requirements, which states will still have to meet, but it does put states in the driver’s seat to get projects moving. States know their own constituents’ needs best and deserve the flexibility to deliver infrastructure projects more efficiently, rather than waiting for federal approval.
There is a persistent belief in Washington that improving our nation’s infrastructure can only be achieved by increasing taxes, but our successes in Nebraska show otherwise. Finding innovative funding solutions and getting big government out of the way so that states can best determine their own needs is a proven method for improving infrastructure.
I will continue to advocate for legislation that strips away unnecessary regulatory burdens and unlocks our nation’s full potential. By bringing some of Nebraska’s best practices to Washington, we can deliver long-term investments that facilitate commerce and allow American families, communities and businesses to succeed for years to come.
• Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska Republican, is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and chairman of the Transportation and Safety Subcommittee.