It’s no secret that America is falling apart and falling behind our global competitors. Once known for world-class infrastructure, the United States was ranked 25th for overall infrastructure quality by the World Economic Forum. A 2013 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the United States a D+, compiling assessments of all parts of our public infrastructure from roads and ports to inland water ways, rail, drinking water, and dams. Oregon comes in at a C-.
America’s infrastructure is the lifeblood of the nation. From the national post roads called for in the Constitution and westward expansion fueled by canals and the transcontinental railroad to the building of the interstate highway system in the 1960s and the construction of dams from the Hoover to the Bonneville, infrastructure has guided our nation’s growth and prosperity. Today, much of our infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life—with water pipes and mains in most cities around 100 years old, and over 30% of our bridges are older than their 50-year design life. American infrastructure will need over $3 trillion to get to state of good repair by 2020. A failure to act will shift the burden to our children, and is already costing American taxpayers today. It’s time to rebuild and renew America.
Raise, Index, Replace the Federal Gas Tax
It’s no secret why our roads and bridges are in such poor shape—the federal gas tax, the main source of transportation funding since the 1950s, is broken. The gas tax has remained unchanged since 1993 at 18.4 cents a gallon, and has lost over 40% of its purchasing power since then due to inflation, rising construction costs, and increased fuel efficiency. As a result, the Highway Trust Fund, the source of federal road and transit dollars, faces a growing shortfall, projected to run an annual deficit of over $14 billion. To make up for the lost fuel tax revenue, Congress has borrowed more than $70 billion from the general treasury fund, just to maintain our current, inadequate level of surface transportation spending.
Congressman Blumenauer introduced legislation that would end the general fund borrowing, bring the gas tax out of the 1990s, and increase investment in our roads and bridges. His widely supported legislation would raise gas and diesel taxes by 15 cents over three years, and index both taxes to inflation.
Congressman Blumenauer also introduced companion legislation that would fund pilot projects that explore mileage-based alternatives to the gas tax. It doesn’t make sense to tie our infrastructure investment to how much gas we consume, especially as American transportation habits change. A more sustainable, fairer, and more efficient user fee is charging drivers by how far they go, not how many times they visit the pump. Oregon is currently exploring a road usage charge (RUC) alternative to the gas tax, and Blumenauer’s legislation would encourage other states to do the same.
A Water Trust Fund
Our nation’s water infrastructure needs have grown while funding for clean water has declined. The overall federal government contribution to total clean water spending has shrunk from 78% in 1978 to 3% today. The GAO, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Water Infrastructure Network, have estimated that the nation faces a growing water infrastructure funding gap of between $300-500 billion between what is currently being spent and what must be spent over the next 20 years in order to upgrade our aging water infrastructure.
In order to meet the water infrastructure needs of our nation, Congressman Blumenauer is proposing draft legislation to create a Water Trust Fund. The mission of this trust fund is to provide a deficit-neutral, consistent and fire-walled source of revenue to states to support the replacement, repair, and rehabilitation of clean and drinking water infrastructure.
Read more on Congressman Blumenauer's Water Protection and Reinvestment Trust Fund Act.
Reinstating the Superfund tax
The Superfund was designed in 1980 to provide money to cleanup sites where the responsible party was out of business or could not be identified. Before it expired in 1995, the money for the Superfund came through taxes on the polluters themselves. However, Congress has never reauthorized the tax, making the burden of funding cleanups of toxic waste sites fall on the shoulders of taxpaying Americans. It is time to make public health, not protection for polluters, a priority. With the reinstatement of the Superfund tax, the stable funds generated would ensure that cleanup efforts at large sites can be properly maintained, and the EPA would have more power to recover costs from liable parties in cleanups.
Why should the Superfund tax be reinstated?
· Companies should clean up their own waste.
· It is unfair to pass the burden onto taxpayers, who bear no responsibility.
· Without reauthorization, millions of Americans will be needlessly exposed to toxic waste while industries escape $1 billion in pollution taxes.
· Polluters should pay for any efforts that are needed to address the problems they create.
· It’s time to put the burden back where it belongs: on polluters.
Download Congressman Blumenauer's Superfund Reinvestment Act One Pager.