By Roberta Rampton
ST PAUL, Minn. Feb 26 President Barack Obama
announced on Wednesday a four-year, $302 billion plan to repair
the country's crumbling roads and bridges, but the proposal,
which relies on tax reform for funding, is not expected to gain
traction on Capitol Hill.
Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to renew federal funding
for transportation programs, and the Highway Trust Fund that
helps pay for road and bridge projects is teetering on
"If Congress doesn't finish a transportation bill by the end
of the summer, we could see construction projects stop in their
tracks, machines sitting idle, workers off the job," Obama said,
while standing in a refurbished train and bus station.
The highway fund has traditionally been replenished through
a tax on fuel. But it no longer collects enough revenue to cover
infrastructure needs and Congress has all but ruled out hiking
the 18.4-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax.
Obama's four-year plan would instead use revenues raised by
ending some tax breaks, freeing up $150 billion for
transportation. But that could only happen through corporate tax
reform, a political long shot ahead of November's mid-term
Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner told
reporters that a bailout for the highway fund likely would be
out of the question for his caucus.
"Meeting with the president yesterday, this is one of the
issues that was discussed. We've got to find a funding mechanism
to fund our infrastructure needs," the Ohio Republican said.
"I wish I could report to you that we've found it, but we
haven't," Boehner added.
Senator Barbara Boxer, head of the committee that oversees
work on the highway bill, said on Wednesday that Obama's plan
was not likely to pass Congress.
"I think it's good, but I don't hold out hope for it," she
told a conference of state transportation officials in
But Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters
traveling with Obama that it was important for all sides to
start talking about how to avert what he called a transportation
"There will be voices that say one thing or another can't
get done," Foxx said. "I think the most important thing is that
the ideas need to be put on the table."
Obama's plan would fill the gap in the Highway Trust Fund
and would invest an additional $90 billion in infrastructure
projects, Foxx said.
Separately on Wednesday, the top Republican tax writer in
Congress proposed a tax reform overhaul that included dedicating
$126.5 billion to the Highway Trust Fund for infrastructure
investments over eight years.
In his plan, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp said
the money for infrastructure would come from reforms in the tax
Reaction to the plan was mixed, but the White House said
Camp's approach was encouraging.
Meanwhile in St. Paul, Obama also launched a competition for
$600 million in grants for transportation projects through a
program that leverages funds from the private sector and state
and local governments. The spending has already been approved by
It is the sixth round of grants for the program, called
Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER),
which has so far funded 270 projects with $3.5 billion.
Obama said the grants would result in jobs for construction
workers hit hard by the recession.
"We've got ports that aren't ready for the next generation
of supertankers. We've got more than 100,000 bridges that are
old enough to qualify for Medicare," he said.
"Nobody knows better than Minnesotans, when we've gone
through a winter like this - roads are wrecked, full of
potholes, all across the country," Obama said.