Washington, D.C.—A top Trump administration official let congressional Democrats know talk of taxes remains a non-starter for any effort to pass an infrastructure package this year.
“We’re not going to have anything that raises taxes on this,” Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said when questioned by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) during a hearing on President Donald Trump’s budget request, which includes a trillion-dollar infrastructure package.
Instead, Vought told the House Budget Committee that Congress should use some of the $4.4 trillion in spending and deficit reductions laid out in the budget proposal to fund an infrastructure bill.
He struck that same note during an earlier press briefing when he was asked specifically about increasing the gas tax, a traditional go-to source of transportation funding.
“The president doesn’t want to do anything right now that could have any impact on economic growth,” Vought told reporters.
He also expressed hope an infrastructure deal could be reached even in an election year, pointing to the bipartisan support such a package continues to generate.
“If it doesn’t happen in an election year, there’s no reason why it can’t happen in a second term if the American people give the president another four years. So to be honest with you, I don’t think we feel any skepticism.”
Vought explained that the proposed budget gets to its trillion-dollar infrastructure package with an eight-year, $800 billion reauthorization of the current highway program and another $200 billion for nationally significant projects.
Even before the House hearing, some in Congress viewed the president’s budget proposal as dead on arrival, so the impact of Vought’s testimony remained unclear.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has continued to promote his committee-passed infrastructure bill that received a boost from Trump in his State of the Union address, and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure, said he is working on his legislation.
While critical of the president’s budget, DeFazio said it provided a positive sign that Trump remained interested in at least talking about the need to invest in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
House Democrats have declined to name a funding source for their bill until a bipartisan agreement could be reached with Trump.
Other options that have been mentioned as possible sources for funding a major infrastructure measure this year include bonds, user fees and a “vehicle miles traveled” system.
With the national nominating conventions and elections cutting into the current congressional schedule, any infrastructure bill would face a daunting task that eventually would turn into a race against the clock to get through both houses of Congress and to the president’s desk.
TSAC To Meet
The Towing Safety Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet via teleconference March 10 to discuss current tasks and receive final reports from the Subcommittee on Load Line Exemption for River Barges on Lakes Erie and Ontario.
Set to begin at 1 p.m., the call will have a limited number of teleconference lines and available on a first-come-first-served basis.
To participate in the teleconference or for additional information, contact Matthew Layman at 202-372-1421.
BUILD Grants Available
The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for ports and others to apply for $1 billion in funding through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program.
BUILD grants are aimed at projects with a significant local or regional impact.
In addition to ports, they can support roads, bridges, transit, rail or intermodal transportation.
DOT stated it intends to award 50 percent of BUILD funds to projects in rural areas to better address the needs there, consistent with its ROUTES (Rural Opportunities to Use Transportation for Economic Success) initiative.
Citing appropriations law, the agency said for this round the maximum grant will be $25 million, and no more than $100 million can go to a single state.
The application deadline is May 18.
To provide assistance to prospective applicants, DOT has scheduled a webinar on February 25 with additional details on the process to be made available on the agency’s website.
Maritime Security Committee
The Coast Guard is requesting applications to serve on the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee and advise the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security via the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Applications should reach the Coast Guard by April 20.
Potential applicants are encouraged to read the descriptions of the 21 positions to be filled.
For additional information, contact Ryan Owens at 202-372-1108.
Great Lakes Restoration
The House easily approved a bipartisan measure to reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act for another five years and boost its authorized level of funding from $300 million to $475 million by fiscal year 2026.
Passed by a vote of 373 to 45, H.R. 4031 by Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) arrived in the Senate where it also has been introduced with bipartisan support.
The current law is set to expire at the end of fiscal year 2021.
Offshore Safety Committee
The National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee and its Lifeboats and Rescue Craft Safety on the Outer Continental Shelf Subcommittee are scheduled to meet March 24-25 in New Orleans, La.
Open to the public, the meetings are set to begin at 1 p.m. March 24 for the subcommittee and 8 a.m. March 25 for the full committee.
Both will be held at the Omni Riverfront Hotel, 701 Convention Center Blvd., New Orleans, La. 70130.
For additional information, contact Coast Guard Cmdr. Myles Greenway at 202-372-1410.
Coast Guard Boat Stations
The Coast Guard is seeking comments on its planned consolidation of possibly five boat stations considered “redundant.”
“Many stations were established at a time when boats lacked engines and were powered by oars and paddles. With modern boat operating speeds and improved direction-finding technology, many calls for Coast Guard assistance can be responded to by multiple units significantly faster than when these boat stations were first established,” the Coast Guard stated in the Federal Register.
“We do not anticipate any adverse effect on Coast Guard response capability. We expect an improvement to the proficiency of boat operators as well as a less complicated response system.”
Stations Oxford, Md., Fishers Island, N.Y.; Shark River, N.J.; Roosevelt Inlet, Pa.; and Salem, N.J. have been identified for consolidation with neighboring stations.
Comments must be received by April 14.
For additional information, contact Todd Aikins at 202-372-2463.
Service Contract Rules
The Federal Maritime Commission is accepting comments on its proposal to amend its rules governing service contracts to reduce regulatory burden.
Comments must be received by April 14.
For additional information, contact Rachel Dickon at 202-523-5725.