Transportation Chief Wants Congress to 'Get Past Gimmicks' on Highway Funding

"I grew up in an America that played to win. Not an America that played not to lose," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "I grew up in an America that played to win. Not an America that played not to lose," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Bruce Smith/AP

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Tuesday said it's time to "get past gimmicks" and focus on a longer-term solution for keeping the nation's highway funding from drying up this summer.

Foxx's remarks came in response to a House Republican idea to cut Saturday postal deliveries as a way to create savings that could be used to keep the highway fund solvent for another year.

"I grew up in an America that played to win. Not an America that played not to lose," said Foxx, who met earlier Tuesday behind closed doors with House Democrats on Capitol Hill. He described the GOP's postal-cuts idea as, at best, a one-year patch to replenish the Highway Trust Fund—not "a real solution" to stabilize funding for highways, bridges, and transit and rail systems.

Foxx pointed out that the administration has put forth a longer-range alternative. It has proposed a $302 billion, four-year transportation reauthorization plan, known as the Grow America Act. But the administration's proposal is funded by supplementing current revenues like the gas tax with $150 billion in onetime "transition" revenue in the form of a "pro-growth business tax "reform"—a tough sell to congressional Republicans.

But something needs to be decided, and soon. The nation's Highway Trust Fund is projected to dry up by August, at the height of the road and bridge construction season, in what some are now calling a highway funding "cliff" facing Congress.

And Foxx painted a picture of a summer construction season being abruptly halted, with 700,000 jobs potentially at risk. Already, he said, state and local partners in thousands of planned road, bridge, and other infrastructure projects are uncertain about whether to put up the tens of millions of dollars that represent their share of costs to get projects ready.

Senate Democrats and outside conservative groups have ridiculed the postal cuts as a solution. They scoff at its reliance on hypothetical savings over 10 years of diminished Saturday delivery—including the avoidance of some future bailout of the Postal Service if that service continues—as a way to immediately come up with more than $10 billion for the fund.

Foxx declined to reject outright the GOP's postal-cuts idea, but he made clear that there is not much administration enthusiasm for it.

"All along we have said that if there are other ideas that emerge that we will be willing to consider those things," Foxx said. "I suppose that's where we are."

But he added, "I would point out that on its best day, the proposal that's being offered on this postal service is a one-year proposal, and so it doesn't meet the demands of a long-term investment."

He also warned: "For Americans out there, the potholes are going to get deeper, the travel times are going to get longer, the trips to pick up your kids are going to get longer. It's just not the way to do business, and that's the thing we're trying to change."

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