WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, joined the POLITICO Money Podcast with Ben White to discuss the state of our country’s infrastructure, the possibilities of passing infrastructure legislation in the 115th Congress and his hopes for working with the Trump Administration in the coming months. The conversation comes a week after Senator Carper and members of the EPW Committee finally met with Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and White House officials, including Gary Cohn and DJ Gribbin, on the administration’s infrastructure plan. A few highlights from the interview are below:
Senator Carper on his meeting with the administration last week:
“[The administration] floated this idea again of somehow $200 billion of federal funds being used to leverage another $800 billion in non-federal funds. And I said to one of the top folks in the administration this morning, at a breakfast meeting, I said, ‘You know, in Delaware, when I was governor, you had this 80-20 sharing arrangement, particularly on roads where there’s an interstate connection. 80 percent federal, 20 percent state. Are you telling me you’re going to come in and say to a governor that we’re going to go from 80-20 federal-state to 20-80? Really? How does that work?’ And I think probably not too well.”
Senator Carper on the Democratic infrastructure blueprint:
“Democrats have already laid out, earlier this year, what we thought was needed, and kind of how we thought it should be spent. A trillion dollars. And should it be more? I think you could make a good argument. The experts think it could be a good deal more than that, but it’s a pretty good opening bid.”
Senator Carper on user fees:
“I think ultimately the way to pay for this stuff is through what I call vehicle miles traveled. They’ve been experimenting with this in Oregon, called ‘road user charge,’ for ten years, where 10,000 families participate and they pay a fee in conjunction with how many miles they travel on the roads of Oregon. And you combine a road user charge, which goes by RUC, with highway speed EZ-Pass and you get what I call ‘RUC and Roll.’ I think that’s where we ultimately want to go so that users – businesses, people who use roads, highways and bridges – would pay for them by virtue of the number of miles they travel.”
Senator Carper on the gas tax:
“In the near-term I think we need to raise the purchasing power of the user fees that we do have. We haven’t raised the gas or diesel tax since 1993. Just restore the purchasing power of that over maybe four years – four cents a year for four years, index it going forward, but eventually migrate toward vehicle miles traveled.”
On working with the administration moving forward:
Carper: Hopefully, the President and the administration will finally lay out what they have in mind. We’ve been waiting for a year and I think hopefully with the President’s State of the Union he’ll get a little more specific and they’ll not just talk in poetry but in prose. What I find troubling, I told Secretary Chao and Gary [Cohn] and DJ [Gribbon], I said you have to show me how you take $200 billion of federal money and somehow turn that into $1 trillion.”
Ben White: Did they have a good answer for that? Because I don’t understand that either.
Carper: Not really. The idea that you can leverage private money and get the states and local governments to put in a whole lot more. Can we do some of that? Probably. They think we can save a lot of money by streamlining. Are there ways to get better results for less money in transportation? Probably – by using technology and that sort of thing. But to flip from an 80-20 cost-share between federal and state to just the opposite, I don’t know if that works. We’ll see. Governors might have something to say about that.”
You can listen to the entire interview here.