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Vitter Opening Statement for "The Need to Invest in America's Infrastructure" Hearing
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Hearing - “The Need to Invest in America’s Infrastructure and Preserve Federal Transportation Funding”
September 25, 2013

Thank you, Chairman Boxer, the members of our Committee who are here today, and our witnesses for appearing before us.

Just over a year ago, MAP-21 was signed into law. While it made substantial reforms to how we invest in this nation's transportation infrastructure and provided two years of funding, it did not address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

As a result, we again face the looming consequences of a broken Highway Trust Fund. If action is not taken, the Trust Fund will not have the funds necessary to meet its obligations starting in early FY'15 or just about a year from now.

The hearing today will examine not only the factors that led the Trust Fund to this point and the ramifications of inaction, but also what options there are to put the Trust Fund back on a viable and sustainable course.

In 2000, we saw the first indication of the current problem when Trust Fund outlays begin to regularly outpace its receipts. In 2008, this trend culminated in the first Trust Fund shortfall and subsequent infusions of general funds.

By the end of 2014, the Congress will have avoided additional Trust Fund shortfalls with several transfers from the General Fund totaling $54 billion.

Such actions over the last five years represent a significant departure from the intent of the Highway Trust Fund.

The Highway Trust Fund was designed to create a sustainable fund paid for by users to benefit those users. Such a structure was intended to not only facilitate the unique characteristics of funding transportation infrastructure but also to provide safeguards for dedicated transportation funding.

Putting such a structure back on a sustainable course will restore confidence in the highway program and will provide the needed certainty of continual investment that can produce the long-term reauthorization bills that meet our infrastructure needs and drive economic growth.

The Highway Trust Fund and the apportionment programs are the foundation of our infrastructure investment. While other investment tools such as TIFIA or bonding have an important role, the truth is that those programs rely on the steady revenue stream of a healthy Highway Trust Fund for success.

Since 1993, the Trust Fund has relied on a set of static funding mechanisms to maintain and grow this nation's infrastructure. As a result, every year its purchasing power is eroded by rising gas prices, increased fuel efficiencies, inflation and the rising cost materials.

Now some believe that it's a core conservative principle to adhere to this flawed mechanism in perpetuity and that's all there should ever be to meet our infrastructure demands.

I don't understand that.

Nonetheless, I do understand what a net tax increase means for cash-strapped middle-class families and will not seek a solution that leaves middle class families with a bigger bill.

We cannot be afraid to make principled investments in our nation's transportation infrastructure. When it comes to this country's economic backbone, principle should guide us on how and where to invest but not if we invest.

Our choices are clear

• We can work to strengthen a proven, consistent structure that built this nation's interstate system, benefits every State and every person and relies on State and local decision-making.

• Or we can continue to let our core, user-fee based infrastructure program erode. Doing so will mean not only subjecting our critical infrastructure projects to endless, uncertain piecemeal funding but also most likely an increased reliance on non-formula based programs that shift funding with the political winds and concentrate decision-making in the hands of federal bureaucrats.

This nation's transportation infrastructure is too important to keep on the current unsustainable course. We must take a hard look at all of our options, find common ground and start the work to put America's infrastructure back on the right path.

However, we can't move forward absent political reality. This work must be done within the window of possibility and that means pursuing options that provide a revenue neutral solution to the Trust Fund challenge.

Again, I thank the chair and the witnesses for their hard work. I look forward to hearing your testimony and working together to getting our nation's infrastructure back on track.


NOTE: Vitter along with all Committee Republicans have been urging U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chairman of the EPW Committee, to set a date for the much delayed hearing to review the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) current and requested budget for Fiscal Year 2014. Click here for more.

 

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