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Testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, January 29, 2020

Email from Pat Jones, Executive Director & CEO, IBTTA

To:  IBTTA Board and Interested Parties

Yesterday the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing entitled “Paving the Way for Funding and Financing Infrastructure investments.” Witnesses included, among others, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Transportation; DJ Gribbin, Founder, Madrus LLC; and Joung Lee, Director of Policy and Government Relations, AASHTO.  Diane did a great job articulating the interests and needs of a state department of transportation and the importance of securing long term and predictable revenues for the federal Highway Trust Fund. 

The hearing occurred just after the House Democratic leadership announced a renewed effort to advance an infrastructure agenda this spring, leading off with the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s release of a Federal highway reauthorization “framework,” a five-year, $760 billion package to succeed the “FAST” Act which expires this September. The framework doesn’t identify a funding source for this enhanced program – that is the jurisdiction (and burden) of the Ways & Means Committee.

“We all recognize the need to fix our roads, bridges, transit, water systems, and electrical grids,” noted Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., chairman of the Ways & Means committee. Ranking Member Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, added that America’s infrastructure needs today “are more regional than national in scope” and thus “different thinking” is required when it comes to redesigning existing public financing to meet that challenges.

The hearing covered revenue and financing mechanisms as well as the many different elements that are included under the broad term “infrastructure”: from highways, bridges and tunnels to mass transit, airports, harbors and seaports, broadband connectivity and power transmission.

Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation and IBTTA’s 2nd Vice President, stressed in her testimony that there is “no more important funding decision” than those involving the transportation network.

“Not unlike utilities, the transportation network is used every day by everyone, and perhaps the single service each of us takes for granted,” she said. “Whether it be by car, train, truck, walking, or biking, everything depends on safe and reliable transportation.”

“The current cycle of short-term program extensions and continuing resolutions combined with a recurring cash shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is unpredictable and grossly inefficient,” she said. “Money is programmed for preliminary design, only to find out that funds will not be available to go to final design or construction. Shelving the project is the only option.”

Gutierrez-Scaccetti added that alternative financing methods, such as public-private partnerships, are not always a suitable replacement for HTF monies. “If there is not a project-based revenue stream in the form of tolls we see typically on highway P3s, availability payments would have to be made to the private concessionaire out of the State Transportation Trust Fund,” she noted.  “But that will then limit our ability to carry out the overall state transportation investment program,” she added. “In essence, we would be sacrificing many necessary projects to support one – the consequence of which is to continue the deterioration of the rest of the system.”

Gutierrez-Scaccetti also emphasized that though New Jersey and other states “do our best to generate revenue for transportation,” even the sum of state-generated transportation funding “will never be sizeable enough” to address the current infrastructure investment backlog.

You can watch the full hearing here, running 4 hours and 20 minutes, and Diane’s testimony begins at about 44:30.