A Sensible Long-Term Fix for the Highway Trust Fund | Commentary
Every day, American families get in their vehicles and drive. Whether it’s dropping the kids off at school, commuting to work or going to the supermarket, we rely on our highways, bridges and roads to get us where we need to go.
But can our transportation infrastructure rely on Washington?
A substantial percentage of each state’s transportation budget relies on money from the federal Highway Trust Fund. This fund is financed from gas taxes and provides money for projects such as fixing crumbling highways and bridges.
But the future of the Highway Trust Fund is in doubt. As Americans increasingly drive more fuel-efficient vehicles, money flowing into the fund is dropping. Congress is having a hard time figuring out how to address the resulting gap between the fund’s revenues and expenditures. Moreover, the Highway Trust Fund’s authorization is expiring at the end of the month.
So what should Congress do?
Some lawmakers — including us — want to reform how Washington spends highway money and find savings to close this funding gap. Others take the opposite approach and want to raise taxes.
In recent years, Congress hasn’t been able to solve this impasse. Short-term “patches” that transfer taxpayer dollars into the highway fund have been passed, but this solution is nothing more than a gimmicky Band-Aid.
And it looks like Congress is about to do the same thing at the end of July.
It does not have to be this way.
Instead of more short-term fixes, we believe there’s a sensible way to pass a long-term highway bill that fully funds our highways, roads and bridges, does not increase taxes, grows our economy, creates jobs and reduces the deficit.
Sounds too good to be true?
It’s not. Let’s pair highway funding with modernizing our immigration system for highly skilled workers.
As we saw last Congress, there are forward-thinking bills that would expand opportunities for highly skilled immigrants to come here, grow the economy, create jobs and pay taxes. They are not only good policy, but also a revenue windfall for Washington.
In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has determined several of these bipartisan proposals would generate more than $100 billion in tax revenues. These revenues are more than enough to pay for a long-term highway bill and reduce the deficit at the same time.
Under this approach, there would be no need for higher gas taxes or a new mileage tax, which Pennsylvanians and Hoosiers do not want — and should not have — to pay. More taxes not only mean less economic growth and fewer jobs in our states, but it also means less money for families to spend on groceries or rent, or to save for their children’s education.
This approach also would grow our economy and create jobs for American workers.
For example, each year, our universities churn out tens of thousands of foreign graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Our immigration policy currently forces these graduates to leave and help companies overseas that compete with U.S. firms. Instead, we should be encouraging such graduates to work here, contribute to our economy, pay taxes and help drive innovation, job creation and economic growth.
We should also expand and reform existing visa programs for highly skilled employees, which studies show create more jobs for American workers.
These types of immigration ideas not only make a lot of sense, but they are also bipartisan and steer clear of the most controversial issues surrounding illegal immigration.
So let’s modernize our immigration system for highly skilled workers and invest the added tax dollars they will pay in our highways, roads and bridges. Done together, Washington can finally resolve a long-standing political impasse, properly fund our transportation infrastructure, and spur economic growth by welcoming more of the world’s brightest minds to help build our economy rather than those of our competitors.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey is a Republican from Pennsylvania; Sen. Dan Coats is a Republican from Indiana.