WASHINGTON -- Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is asking Congress to create an infrastructure bank, consider increasing the gas tax, allow states to toll more highways and provide more grants for multistate projects.
Now co-chairman of the advocacy group Building America's Future, Mr. Rendell was the first witness to testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair, became chairman.
"I don't want to hear anybody talk about American exceptionalism until we invest in our infrastructure. ... We are falling apart, literally, and we are falling behind our competitor nations," said Mr. Rendell, a Democrat. Moving goods "is one of the keys to American competitiveness, and we are getting our brains beat in."
U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue, who also testified, said he agreed that a reasonable increase in the gas tax might be needed to fund important infrastructure projects.
Mr. Shuster has said that hiking the gas tax is among many proposals his committee will consider.
Former committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., blasted Mr. Donohue for speaking in favor of the gas tax.
"Unfortunately, the supposed key private sector business spokesperson has backslided again to a myopic tax-and-spend agenda," Mr. Mica said in a written statement issued even before Wednesday's hearing adjourned. "Rather than cite vision and innovation for cost-effective transportation solutions, he advocates tax increases."
Gas taxes have a diminishing return as vehicles are made more energy efficient. That's one reason Mr. Rendell suggested a user fee based on the number of miles traveled. That's a proposal that has faced concerns over privacy, but Mr. Rendell said technology is being developed that would collect and transmit data about miles traveled, but not locations visited.
Revenue could be used to support public-private partnerships, Mr. Donohue said, or to provide federal grants for projects that span several states, Mr. Rendell said.
The grants could be structured similarly to the TIGER program established under the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, Mr. Rendell said. That program allowed Pennsylvania and five other states to work together to improve the movement of freight on eastern rail lines, he said.
Mr. Donohue said there are many creative approaches that government could take to improve the infrastructure, but first it needs the money to do it.
"To talk about this idea or that idea gets very, very difficult unless we're willing to increase the revenue," he said.
Mr. Rendell said revenue could be raised gradually, but committee member Michael Capuano, D-Mass., said lawmakers should buck up and impose whatever revenue is needed to stabilize the infrastructure, even if tax hikes and fees are unpopular.
"We need to figure out what's right -- what we need for the future of this country -- and accept the political consequences," he said.
Mr. Shuster said it's his priority to ensure an efficient national transportation system.
Terry O'Sullivan, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, testified that transportation needs exceed what states and cities can address on their own. The federal government needs to help.
"There isn't a single American who doesn't benefit and doesn't want good roads and safe bridges, clean drinking water and efficient airports, waterways, abundant energy and good jobs," he said.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-996-9292.