Testimony by Thomas J. Donohue: "Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and the Need for Immediate Action”

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 - 10:30am
By Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Oral Testimony by Thomas J. Donohue
Before the House Ways and Means Committee

"Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and the Need for Immediate Action”
United States House of Representatives


Chairman Neal, Ranking Member Brady, and members of the Committee—thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I’m Tom Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I’m honored to join my colleagues on this panel.

As my old friend Rich just said, we’ve been here before. We don’t always wind up on the same side of the fight, but on infrastructure, we stand shoulder to shoulder—and we are determined to get this done now.

At the Chamber, we’ve always said that infrastructure is something that can only be done on a bipartisan basis. In that spirit, that I urge the members of this committee to find common cause on this national priority—just as business and labor have.

The stakes are high for all of us. Our long-term competitiveness and lasting prosperity require us to bring our infrastructure system into the 21st century. And the businesses that the U.S. Chamber represents are depending on it.

Just today, we released our Quarterly Small Business Index, which found that crumbling infrastructure is a significant roadblock standing in the way of American small businesses. A majority of the respondents told us that highways and local roads and bridges are critical to the success of their companies. And 62% said that their local surface infrastructure is in average, poor, or very poor quality.

These are facts that are well known to all of us. The question is, what are we going to do about it.

The Chamber has outlined a four-part plan that addresses the essentials—how we get projects approved in a timely manner… who does the work… and how we pay for it.

Dedicated funding streams … trust funds … federal loans and grants … and private resources should all be leveraged to upgrade core infrastructure—including seaports, airports, water ways, electric grids, dams, levees, short lines, and more. There’s $100 billion in private global capital looking for investment opportunities in infrastructure—and there will be a lot more private money to invest in essential projects if we make the needed policy changes.

My written testimony discusses those ideas in detail.

For the balance of my time, though, I want to talk about the elephant the room. I want to talk about the gas tax.

The federal gas tax, which funds highway and transit programs, is a flat 18.4 cents. The same as it was in 1993. How many people in this room can live off the same paycheck you earned in 1993? No one? Our nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems can’t either.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that $150 billion in additional revenue is necessary just to maintain current spending levels—and current spending levels are not sufficient. That’s why the Chamber advocates raising the gas tax by just 25 cents, which would generate $394 billion over the next 10 years to invest in highways and transit.

Understand that much of this increase would be paid for by businesses. Truckers, for example, would bear a huge portion of this cost, and they’re some of the strongest proponents! They’re already bearing the costs of a failing infrastructure system anyway, so they’re willing to pay a little more to improve the resource that is vital to their industry and their livelihoods.

This is well understood outside of Washington, which is why the citizens of 39 states—red and blue—have voted to raise their gas taxes.

I have always said that the Chamber is open to other ideas. We are even hosting a competition at the Chamber that will give away $25,000 in prizes for the most viable ideas for long-term, sustainable infrastructure funding.

But the fact remains: there is no free money.

There is no magical way for the government to pay for infrastructure without collecting the money from someone first. And the fairest thing to do is to collect it from the users of that infrastructure.

I appreciate that there is a perceived cost to raising the money we need to fund a great nation’s infrastructure.

But there is also a cost to inaction. 

The Chamber’s members pay the cost of inaction when they can’t move goods to their destinations on time … or get to their job sites on time … or make more service calls. Your constituents pay the costs in wear and tear on their vehicles and lost time stuck in congestion—time they’re not working or spending with their families.  

The longer we wait to make this investment, the worse our infrastructure will get, and the more it will cost us—not only in money to fix it, but in lost time, lost productivity, and lost lives … things we can never get back.

I know the members of this committee share our determination to take on this national priority—and the U.S. Chamber stands ready to help. Let’s get this done.

Thank you very much.

 


Download the written testimony 

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