Ahead of Obama Bridge Visit, DOT Warns States Highway Trust Fund Checks Will Slow

With President Barack Obama set to speak later in the day in front of the Key Bridge, his Transportation secretary is warning states checks will slow if Congress doesn't patch the hole in the Highway Trust Fund soon. In letters to state transportation officials and transit agencies, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx sets forth protocols for managing the shortfall, which at the outset will particularly affect the states. "As I stated in my June 19 letter, the Department will continue to take every possible measure to fully reimburse your State for as long as we can. However, as we approach insolvency, the Department will be forced to limit payments to manage the reduced levels of cash available in the Trust Fund," Foxx wrote in the letter to state transportation departments. "This means, among other things, that the Federal Highway Administration will no longer make 'same-day' payments to reimburse States," he added. The situation with public transit agencies may be less dire in the immediate term, with Foxx saying the critical shortfall in the separate pool of money known as the mass transit account isn't expected to hit until October. "I urge you to stand with me in calling on Congress to ensure the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund while committing itself to a sound, bipartisan, and long-term solution that will ensure the stability of the surface transportation system of our Nation for the next several years," Foxx wrote in both letters. Obama's event Tuesday on the Georgetown waterfront with the Key Bridge in the background may feature a lot of familiar rhetoric from past transportation events, including his 2011 appearance at the Brent Spence Bridge that connects Ohio and Kentucky. "Ahead of the July 4th holiday — and with this historic bridge as his backdrop — the President will make clear that by closing unfair tax loopholes for companies that ship profits overseas, we can invest in rebuilding our infrastructure, which will continue to create jobs and grow our economy," a White House official said in a statement Monday previewing the Key Bridge appearance. The tax provisions often identified by Democrats as being ripe for eliminating or revising have proven unpopular with Republicans time and time again, with many derided as tax hikes. A stopgap solution to provide the roughly $9 billion senators are seeking to address the short-term shortfall will likely include some tax compliance provisions and other adjustments, but not the closing of what Democrats refer to as loopholes. Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota made that point during an appearance on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" that aired on Sunday. "There's probably something that could be found that would be middle ground, and if there are tax compliance issues that don't represent new taxes, and some spending reforms that would get you to a place that you might be able to come up with the necessary shortfall and cover it. ... I think that's a solution that's out there," Thune said. Thune's comments were recorded just before a highway funding markup of the Senate Finance Committee, of which he is a member. Before departing for the July Fourth recess, the panel started the markup that would offset the Highway Trust Fund shortfall, deferring further action until after the break as negotiations continue between Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and other members of the committee. Wyden modified his original proposal to remove an increase in heavy vehicle use taxes and add a transfer from the leaking underground fuel tanks.