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Senator Curt Bramble’s comments before the United States Senate’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
May 5th, 2015
Today, our Utah Senator Curt Bramble (also NCSL president-elect) testified this morning at a Senate hearing on surface transportation reauthorization.
Speaking on the behalf of NCSL, Sen. Bramble addressed a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and urged members to take up a long-term reauthorization that provides states certainty and explores alternative funding and financing options.
In his testimony, Sen. Bramble discussed the impact federal inaction has on states. “The uncertainty that pervades short-term extensions makes it extremely challenging for states to adequately plan and achieve their performance targets especially because many transportation infrastructure projects require a multi-year commitment.”
Chairman Fischer, Ranking Member Booker and distinguished members of the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, my name is Curt Bramble, President Pro-Tem of the Utah Senate and President-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures. I appear before you today on behalf of NCSL, the bipartisan organization representing all the legislatures of our states and territories.
Madam Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and the committee for your leadership on the important issue of surface transportation reauthorization.
I would also note that it was an honor and pleasure to serve with you during your time as a state senator including the three years we both served together on NCSL’s Executive Committee.
As we all know, on May 31, authorization for federal surface transportation programs will expire and the Highway Trust Fund is set to become insolvent shortly thereafter.
Surface transportation reauthorization is a top priority for NCSL and state legislatures across the country. It is not only critical to the movement of people and goods, but also brings with it job creation and economic growth. While my written testimony addresses a number of key policy issues pertaining to a reauthorization including, I’d like to take this opportunity to drive home three points:
• First, the need for Congress to provide both sustainable and predictable funding and financing options;
• Second, the need to ensure the continuation of a state-administered federal-aid surface transportation program; and
• Third, the need to provide states the flexibility to explore alternatives to fuel taxes.
To expand on these, NCSL urges Congress to ensure the continued solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, while committing to adopt a long-term agreement on surface transportation funding. The uncertainty that pervades short-term extensions makes it extremely challenging for states to adequately plan and achieve their performance targets especially as so many transportation infrastructure projects require a multi-year commitment. Due to the uncertainty of federal funding and short-term extensions of MAP-21, Utah withheld one-third of our bid letting for the current year. We anticipate 25 projects with a total value of $65 million will be deferred to next year. These delays have a harmful impact on the state’s broader economy. I cannot overstate the negative impacts this uncertainty creates.
Despite federal inaction state legislators in more than a quarter of states, including in my home state of Utah, have stepped forward to invest billions of dollars so that we can both repair and upgrade our nation‘s surface transportation assets to ensure their continued safety and viability. However, the significant steps taken by many states should not be misconstrued. NCSL is a strong supporter of the federal government’s role in a national surface transportation system. And that we fully support the continuation and preservation of a federal-aid surface transportation program that provides flexibility for states to address unique regional issues.
And finally, I’d like to quickly touch on the 800 pound gorilla – how to pay for these necessary investments? NCSL believes the next long-term reauthorization should provide for a more sustainable funding mechanism that maintains a federal trust fund financed by user fees. We urge Congress to support state-level pilot programs to explore transportation funding alternatives to fuel taxes.
In Utah, I recently helped lead efforts to bolster state surface transportation funding to ensure the continued success of my state’s infrastructure system. The decision was not an easy one, nor was it taken lightly. Our motor fuel taxes had been the same per gallon amount since 1997 and had lost 49 percent of its buying power to inflation. We looked out into the future and realized that we were facing a structural deficit in transportation. We had a static rate applied to a static base, which would not support our necessary long-term expenditures. Given the requirements of increased fuel efficiency, the growth in hybrid, electric and other alternative fuel vehicles and a static funding system that fails to adapt to demand, we needed a new approach. We recognized that continued economic expansion requires continued infrastructure investment.
Additionally, although the major funding portion of the bill was similar to a sales tax, we also included provisions directing UDOT to study a road usage fee similar to a pilot program in Oregon.
Madam Chairman, throughout the history of our country, transportation infrastructure has played an integral role in the success of our economy. Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution notes that it is a duty of the federal government to provide support for national transportation investment. Strong federal support for the development of post roads, canals and highways has supported economic development throughout the history of our country. As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the Federal-Aid Road Act it is this partnership that has enabled the United States to build a surface transportation network envied by the rest of the world.
I thank you for this opportunity to testify before the subcommittee. The importance of a long-term reauthorization cannot be understated. Along with states, the federal government plays a vital role in supporting our national surface transportation system. State legislators stand ready to work with Congress as it continues to develop a long-term successor to MAP-21. I look forward to questions from members of the subcommittee.
View the official transcript of Bramble’s testimony here.
Rather watch it? You can find the archived webcast of the committee here. Bramble’s testimony begins at about 31:40.