May 26 2015
Chances are, you were sitting in traffic or just missed a pothole before reading this.
Every day, millions of people sit idle as our roads and bridges languish from delayed repairs and lack of lane expansions. The problem has been apparent for decades — you see it every day from road closures to “expect delays” signs. Our infrastructure sits in limbo due to regulatory burdens and a lack of adequate funding. It’s time to end this paralysis and get America moving again.
It’s time to build, America.
Nebraska encompasses vast swaths of beautiful open country and vibrant urban areas. Roads are the lifeblood of our state, enabling Nebraskans to bring goods to market and deliver the products Americans use every day to their doorstep.
While in the Nebraska Legislature, I spearheaded a bill that would eventually become law, the Federal Funds Exchange Program. This program provides counties and cities in our state with the option to exchange federal transportation dollars for state transportation dollars at 80 cents on the dollar. Nebraska counties and towns voluntarily give up a portion of their federal transportation dollars and, in turn, receive funds with more reasonable regulatory requirements.
Because of this program, transportation projects, such as a longstanding bridge replacement in Buffalo County and a major arterial street in South Sioux City, are up and running.
Across the country, all states need more flexibility, better transportation funding tools, and additional financing options to help build vital infrastructure projects. And time is not on their side. The Congressional Research Service has found that major highway projects are taking as many as 14 years to plan and build.
Time is up. We need to bring successful strategies from our states to Washington. That is why I introduced the Build USA Act. This legislation would establish the American Infrastructure Bank (AIB) — a new structure that would infuse more dollars into our transportation system and provide states with more flexibility.
The bill would allow states to enter into agreements with the AIB to remit federal transportation dollars for core infrastructure projects. In return, states would receive 90 percent of the remitted money and have approval authority for certain federal requirements. Under AIB remittance agreements, states would be delegated authority over the environmental, construction and design aspects of federal-aid highway projects.
Revenues generated through remittance agreements would also help to fund a financing program for local infrastructure projects. The AIB would offer states and local governments the ability to apply for core infrastructure financing at a more competitive rate than the private sector. AIB loans would not have restrictions on project size or cost — a particular benefit to smaller communities seeking to start new projects.
A voluntary, three-year repatriation holiday, where companies could bring money back to America, taxed at a much lower rate than under current law, would be implemented to generate capital for the bank’s revolving fund operations. Recent estimates by the Joint Committee on Taxation suggest that the first three years of a similar plan could raise as much as $30 billion.
Although some members of Congress wish to save these revenues for an overhaul of the tax code, most acknowledge that tax reform is unlikely to come to fruition in the near future.
Meanwhile, our nation’s transportation needs are immediate. These dollars should go toward solving problems our citizens experience every day. As such, this revenue should help provide a long-term solution to highway funding, not just a one-time jump-start as some have suggested.
The Build USA Act has the ability to infuse new funding into our transportation system and provide states with more policy options — all without raising taxes. While it would not address all the challenges we face, it would set the model.
It’s time for Washington to think outside the box. Through the Build USA Act, I’m presenting some of Nebraska’s best practices to help our federal government help itself.
Our nation needs to get moving. Remember that on your next commute.
The writer, a Republican, is Nebraska’s senior U.S. senator. She serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.