A federal motor fuels tax that has gone unchanged for more than two decades and tax breaks that favor oil companies, hedge-fund managers, and corporations that move jobs overseas are among factors to blame for America’s crumbling roads and bridges, U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said Friday during a visit to a Toledo construction site.
Flanked by two area transportation planners and backed by representatives of transportation and construction-trades unions, Mr. Brown called for a comprehensive review of how federal transportation programs are paid for while chastising Republicans whose “no new taxes” pledges he said are offset by vehicle damage and jobs lost because of deferred maintenance and rising congestion.
“When one political party is signing a pledge to never increase taxes or close loopholes, you end up with decaying infrastructure,” Mr. Brown said during a news conference at the downtown end of the Anthony Wayne Bridge, which is undergoing a $28.7 million overhaul that will keep it closed until September, 2015.
The current federal transportation program expires Sept. 30, and the senator said the Highway Trust Fund will be exhausted before then, with federal funds to Ohio likely to drop 30 percent in August if nothing is done.
While that won’t affect the Anthony Wayne project, it could disrupt other vital construction in the Toledo area, including I-75 reconstruction through downtown Toledo and the McCord Road underpass in Holland, said Warren Henry, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ director of transportation.
Contractors on projects that do continue could be affected by slower processing of payments, he added.
Keith Earley, Lucas County engineer, said the stagnant federal gas tax, locked in at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, has lost half its purchasing power over the years, forcing agencies like his to resort to cheaper temporary repairs that are less economical in the long run.
Mr. Brown said he supports allowing states to expand tolling on existing highways and that a 12-cent increase in the federal motor-fuels tax that other senators have proposed this week is “part of what we need to do in the long-term bill.”
But the first step, he said, should be closing the “loopholes” that favor big business at the expense of individual taxpayers, and that a gas-tax increase should be offset with other breaks for the middle class.
Staff for U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said his office too is worried by federal forecasts of Highway Trust Fund exhaustion this summer and the senator believes work on a long-term solution must continue.
But a statement from Mr. Portman’s office said the best solution may be to cut out the federal middleman and keep all fuel-tax funds Ohio now sends to Washington at home. In particular, it criticized spending on bicycle and walking paths, community preservation initiatives, “and other so-called transportation alternatives” estimated at $809 million last year.
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