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December 28, 2010 - ASCE Letter - Rule Change to the Highway Trust Fund Guarentees

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December 28, 2010

The Honorable John Boehner
Longworth House Office Building, Room: 1011
Washington, DC 20515
FAX: (202) 225-0704

Dear Speaker Boehner:

On behalf of the more than 140,000 members of the American Society of Civil Engineers, we’d like to raise our strong objection to one of the provisions in the draft of the House rules package for the 112th Congress that was released by House Republicans last week. The provision, which is on pages 10 and 11 of the draft, would hurt investment in transportation infrastructure, reduce jobs, and break faith with the American taxpayer by not using trust funds for their intended purposes.

The current House rule (Rule XXI, clause 3) ensures that all of the revenues that taxpayers pay into the Highway Trust Fund are used for highway and transit improvements on an annual basis. Prior to the adoption of this rule in 1998, it was common for Congress to engage in a shell game by reducing Highway Trust Fund spending so that spending elsewhere could be increased. As a result of these abuses, the balances in the trust fund soared, while much-needed infrastructure investment was deferred.

The effects of this deferred investment is documented in ASCE’s 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure in which the nation’s infrastructure was graded at a “D” with an estimated $2.2 trillion required in order to bring all categories of our infrastructure into a state of good repair. The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure graded Roads at a “D -“, Transit at a “D”, and Bridges at a “C”.

Transportation projects are frequently multi-year endeavors and are the product of a transportation planning process that must look years into the future. As such, federal highway and transit investments must be stable and predictable to allow states to maximize efficiency and public benefit in delivering transportation improvements. The House Republican-proposed rules package for the 112th Congress, unfortunately, would sever the user-financed basis of the Highway Trust Fund, and make annual federal highway and transit investments subject to the whims of the appropriations process. In so doing, this proposal would inject further uncertainty into an already destabilized construction marketplace.

The combination of not having a multi-year reauthorization of the federal highway and public transportation programs – 15 months after the expiration of SAFETEA-LU – and recession- driven state budget challenges has led many states to begin scaling back their transportation programs. Given these realities, the focus of the 112th Congress should be on enactment of a robust, multi-year reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program that creates jobs and boosts the economy, not on procedural maneuvers that will make it easier to cut transportation investment.

We urge that this change to the House Rules be reconsidered.

Sincerely,
Kathy J. Caldwell, P.E., M.ASCE             Patrick J. Natale, P.E., F.ASCE
President                                                Executive Director

Cc:

Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer
Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn
Representative Sander Levin
Representative David Camp
Representative Nick Rahall
Representative John Mica
Representative Norman Dicks
Representative Jerry Lewis