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Transportation and Infrastructure

The Thing About Expediency and an Infrastructure Bank
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 09/09/11

In yesterday’s speech before a joint session of Congress, President Obama called for new spending to help get the economy going again and to get Americans back to work. Putting aside the debate on how to truly fix the economy and how much of the fixing ought to be legislated by government, let’s take a look at one of the items the President offered as part of his overall solution: a national infrastructure bank. As he said:

"And we’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it would do for the economy."

Such a bank is no new concept. Besides inclusion in the President’s proposed FY 2011 budget, four pieces of legislation have been introduced in the 111th and 112th Congresses to establish government borrowing entities for transportation, water, and energy projects. While a bill introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) would create a wholly-owned government bank is worth noting, the President specifically mentioned a “Massachusetts Democrat”-supported bill, likely the BUILD Act, sponsored by Senator John Kerry (MA). BUILD would authorize $10 billion in new borrowing authority for infrastructure ventures, with a $2 billion real cost to taxpayers in start up expenses and loan guarantees. BUILD was highlighted in the July 26th edition of the Taxpayer’s Tab. According to information provided by the White House, the bank under the President’s proposal would cost $10 billion over an undefined period of time. One would hope everyone will have a better idea of the timetable once the bill is released to the public. However, it appears, the President’s new infrastructure bank proposed would require a greater infusion of federal dollars than the plans supported by any member of Congress, be it Democrat or Republican-controlled.

More to the President’s point, he touted the immediate need for the provisions he outlined in his American Jobs Act, saying “right now” seven times in the address. Yet the establishment of a new bureaucracy to exclusively funnel public and private dollars into projects creating and improving roads and dams is no easy task. There are several steps to follow. Once the government is authorized to create the bank (no small feat in the current political environment), personnel would have to be hired and offices set up, rules would be drafted, and money would have to be allocated and transferred to dedicated accounts. THEN planning and loan applications would have to be submitted and approved or denied with appropriate time tables of conducting further administrative actions, contracting of construction and design companies, and buying of building and support materials and machinery. Rather than “right now,” “near future” would be more accurate timetable under the best of circumstances.

It would be foolhardy for Americans -- employed or otherwise -- to assume infrastructure jobs would be immediately available. Massive construction projects take years to plan, let alone implement, start, and finish. The jobs that would come would be turned out just as slowly. As Obama joked about the first “stimulus,” “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.”

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Eliminate the Gas Tax?
Posted By:  - 08/19/11

TaxGirl asks the following question at Forbes:  "Should the federal gas tax be reduced or eliminated in order to jump start the economy?"

Would it help?  Would it make a difference at all?  Would our infrastructure implode without the funding?  Share your thoughts with us and with TaxGirl.

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Ethanol Less Popular Than on Tuesday
Posted By:  - 06/16/11

On Tuesday, the Senate voted against considering an amendment by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn that would have eliminated the 45-cent-a-gallon blender tax credit.  That was then, this is now.  Today, the Senate has approved an amendment sponsored by California Senator Diane Feinstein that would end the tax credit and lift the tariff that limits the importation of foreign ethanol, according to The Hill.  Ethanol is an artificial industry that has lasted for decades thanks to its supporters inside the Beltway.  For today, at least, the opponents of King Corn have won.  Tomorrow, as they say, is another day.

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Ethanol Still Popular on Capitol Hill
Posted By:  - 06/14/11

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal highlights a report from the UN that expresses concerns about foodstocks being converted to ethanol and Senator Tom Coburn's efforts to end ethanol subsidies.  According to CNN, that effort failed this afternoon.  So, despite opposition at the UN, ethanol remains popular inside the Beltway.

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Coming This Summer: New DC Bus Tax
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 05/18/11

Folks traveling these days are faced with higher gas prices, more airport security fees, and static rail schedules, but new bus companies like Bolt and Mega Bus have utilized new technologies and business models to drive down the cost and hassle of getting around. If I wanted to take a mental health day from researching our federal budget (taxing as it is bloated), I could have paid a measly $20 for a round trip to New York City from Washington DC. Aside from the long gone Skybus airline, you can’t get any better than that.

The companies get by with rock bottom prices because they don’t have investments in bus depots, heavy union contracts, or out of touch leadership. They pick you up from a designated location -- a parking lot or street curb -- and get you where you’re going in a reasonable amount of time. My trip to NYC would take four hours in morning traffic.

However, the deals might be coming to an end. The DC government plans to impose a public space rental fee of $80,000 (or more) per year on these companies. This is a city government that already taxes its citizens and businesses similar to the nation’s biggest tax-hogs: Tied with California in the Tax Foundation’s Tax Freedom Day and with Washington State in the Americans for Tax Reform’s Cost of Government Day. In as little as a month, consumers will take another blow to their purchasing power because of government taxing and regulation.

This is likely not the end of the story. The nearby states of Virginia and Maryland have an opportunity to become new stop points for the bus companies. Whether they would impose a similar tax or leave the companies to serve their customers remains to be seen.

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VA Beach Taxpayers to Discuss Light Rail
Posted By:  - 05/04/11

Mark your calendars.  Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads taxpayers will have a chance to hear renowned transportation expert Wendell Cox discuss light rail on May 12th.  The event, sponsored by the Virginia Beach Taxpayer Alliance, will be held in the Princess Anne High School Auditorium in Virginia Beach.  It is free and open to the public. 

Doors open at 6:30 pm.  The program begins at 7 pm.

Contact Robert Dean, VBTA Communications Director, at robertkdean at  cox dot net with questions.

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More Social Security Payouts & Maple Syrup Bill Covered in Latest Taxpayer’s Tab
Posted By: Dan Barrett - 04/13/11

Tab Insert

As the federal government narrowly escaped a shutdown and the President delivers a speech on his long-term fiscal plans, NTU Foundation has been scoring the bills introduced by your elected officials. Some bills would greatly increase the spending of tax dollars while others would scale back spending and reduce the budget. It is our intention to present both kinds of bills to inform taxpayers.

The most expensive bill scored in the past week would increase payments to Americans who turned 65 between 1979 and 1988. Because of earlier reforms to the Social Security entitlement program, this age group, called “Notch Babies,” apparently received up to 55 percent less in payments than those entering the system, before and after. The measure would allow seniors either to accept a lump payment of $5,000 over four years or to accept a modified benefit payment plan over ten years. Check out the history and the costs of the Notch Fairness Act in Issue 12 of the Taxpayer’s Tab.

Bills covered in the latest Taxpayer’s Tab includes:

  • HR 1001/S 118, Notch Fairness Act of 2011
  • HR 620/S 391, Recovering Excessive Stimulus Expenditures for Taxpayers (RESET) Act
  • HR 572, Clean Ports Act of 2011
  • HR 1275/S 691, Maple Tapping Access Program Act

Join NTUF on Twitter! We broadcast our latest work and highlight the spending agendas of the legislators representing you in Washington DC. Not a Twitterer? Sign up for the Tab so you get the most out of our research. Like what you see? Support NTUF and ride the wave of transparency.

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Tune into NTU's State of the Union Coverage tonight
Posted By:  - 01/25/11

Tonight at 9 p.m. EST, the National Taxpayers Union's crack government affairs and policy analysis teams will provide special online coverage of the President’s State of the Union Address, and we want you to be there and be a part of the discussion. We will be breaking down the President's proposals and what they will mean for taxpayers. Details on how you can join the conversation are below.

  • If you have a Twitter account, use the hash tags #NTUSOTU and #SOTU to link to our discussions and analyses. Hash tags are like keywords for Twitter. Just use them in each of your messages to link to the ongoing dialogue. Remember to also follow @NTU and @NTUF for all the latest commentary!
  • You can also log onto NTU’s Facebook page, where we will constantly update our newsfeed with links, comments, and memorable quotes. Be sure to join our page by clicking "Like"!
  • Even if you don’t have a Twitter of Facebook account, you can still share your thoughts and opinions by going to our special chat room. Join the chat here.
  • NTU will also be updating our blog, Government Bytes, as the night progresses. You can comment on each post as well! Just click on the “Post a Comment” link and speak your mind.

We look forward to seeing you online tonight at 9 p.m. EST!

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Obama on infrastructure
Posted By:  - 01/25/11

I had hoped to hear about deficit reduction and the need to live within our means in this speech. Then I heard Obama say: "Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail..."

So much for fiscal restraint...

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Senators Oppose Higher Ethanol Blending Requirements
Posted By:  - 01/07/11

The Hill's E2 Wire is reporting that "A bipartisan coalition of senators are mounting increased opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to allow some vehicles to fuel up with higher blends of ethanol in their gasoline." 

Ethanol has been hanging around Washington for decades, but perhaps there's a sense now that it's time to put an end to it.

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