One of the major issues Congress must deal with in 2014 is the expiration of MAP-21. Signed into law in 2012, this legislation provided for infrastructure funding at the then current level until October 31 of this year. That bill came after Congress had extended the previous legislation a staggering eleven times.
Fortunately, Iowa is blessed with a good highway system, but many other parts of the country have significant infrastructure problems. Already labeled by many as a “do nothing Congress”, there is a major concern that when the legislation expires, they may just kick the can down the road again. Last year in preparation for the discussions, an eleven member panel from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee conducted a series of hearings in various cities, but issued a report that simply gave us a blinding glimpse of the obvious – infrastructure is a problem and the highway trust fund is almost broke. There was no mention of the driving underlying issue – how improvements will be funded.
In frustration, a number of states including Virginia, Maryland, and Wyoming, have enacted legislation and levied taxes that will fund their own improvements. While this will be good for their networks, there is no adherence to a “grand plan” for highway infrastructure. Congress has a constitutional obligation to provide a transportation network adequate for the commerce of the United States (similar to the 1954 design of the current interstate system), but they have not done so. What we desperately need is a comprehensive plan with an adequate funding mechanism. Congress has consistently failed to deal with the taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline which have not been increased since 1993. This is long overdue, as unpleasant as it may be for the industry.
Infrastructure improvement will be very expensive, and it is not the kind of self-serving project that Congress often embraces. None of us are excited about higher taxes; but at some point, as the saying goes, the bullet must be bitten. This would be a good time to do that.