The path yet chosen

Transportation remains a footnote this November

Much of the focus in this year’s presidential election has centered on the state of the economy and who is responsible for the unemployment rate, Democrats or Republicans. But there are other critical issues, such as the state of our transportation and infrastructure system.

While nearly everyone was pleased when Congress came together to pass a 27-month transportation bill this summer, the timing of that bill creates a potential threat to a longer-term version.

This bill is set to expire in September 2014, just before the midterm elections in November of that year.

“This was a bipartisan bill…and is a bill that really was a game-changer for the [highway] program,” Jeff Shoaf, senior executive director of government affairs for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), told Fleet Owner. “If it had not been for the realities of the spending [limitations], I don’t think this would have gotten done.”

It’s the current funding mechanism— the fuel tax—that remains the biggest impediment to long-term change in the nation’s infrastructure budget.

“Where this bill falls short is on the funding side,” Sean McNally, vice president of communications & press secretary for the American Trucking Assns., said. “Everybody who has done a study on America’s roads and bridges has come to the same conclusions.”

There are, of course, a number of issues the next president and Congress must address, including tax and budget reform, entitlement reform and the more than $16 trillion debt, noted Shoaf, first person 32 I sleepers 34 I safety 411 42 I private fleets 44 I closing the deal 46 I freight outlook 48 managemenT but the transportation side of the ledger has received little attention so far.

The truth is that whichever party comes away victorious in November, the hard realities of funding the nation’s infrastructure projects will be waiting with millions of jobs at stake.

“Obama stated his desire to build roads and bridges—I think he called it nation building—without saying explicitly where that money is coming from,” McNally said. “We would like to see both campaigns make [transportation more of a priority].”

In their campaign platform, the Republicans noted that “America’s infrastructure networks are critical for economic growth, international competitiveness, and national security.”

The party indicated it wanted to renew federal-state partnerships and seek out public-private partnerships as a way to improve the nation’s infrastructure. The Republicans specifically noted that a vehicle miles tax, which many believe should replace our current fuel tax system, is not an option.

The Democrats pointed to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as an example of its priorities for the nation. According to AGC, the “platform calls for an ‘immediate investment’ for highways, transit, rail and aviation. It also calls for the creation of a national infrastructure bank.”

Shoaf said one of the big issues facing American businesses in this election, particularly small businesses, is taxes. The Democrats wish to keep most of the Bush tax cuts in place beyond this year when they are set to expire, with the exception of those cuts on people earning more than $250,000 a year. The Republicans, on the other hand, have steadfastly refused to budge on that issue; in fact, their platform calls for the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax, the elimination of the estate tax, the elimination of tax on capital gains, dividend and interest for lower income individuals, and a 20% reduction in all rates, AGC said.

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