On November 8, 2020, Jim Burnley and Fred Wagner were quoted in Law360 on what President-elect Joe Biden’s win holds for transportation and infrastructure, including a pressing issue that's hampered Congress for years: finding a permanent, long-term fix to replenishing the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for surface transportation projects.
According to the article, the fast-draining fund receives money from a federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel fuel and related excise taxes. The gas tax is the single largest source of federal highway and surface transportation funding, adding about $38 billion to the Highway Trust Fund each year. Burnley said the fund "already is not sustainable just on fuel tax revenues [so] something has to change."
Wagner agreed that surface transportation funding issues will continue to loom large. In the past year, House and Senate leaders floated varying infrastructure proposals as they negotiated a reauthorization of surface transportation funding leading up to the September 30 expiration of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. Rather than taking up new legislation, Congress passed a one-year extension of the FAST Act, buying it time until September 2021 to come up with a bipartisan bill.
The Biden administration will likely seek to rejigger the funding formula for projects overall and allocate more money to help transit and other regional projects that the previous administration had shunned in favor of traditional highways and roads upgrades or rural transportation projects.
"[There will be] much greater diversification of whatever money is in a new bill after next September. By that I mean the mix of money that's available for transit, passenger rail, port improvements other than the highway pie," Wagner said. "You're likely to see a greater request and emphasis on discretionary and formula funding. ... The pendulum has swung back and forth between discretionary and nondiscretionary spending and returning some power and authority to localities."
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