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Rep. Blumenauer, ATA show bipartisanship is possible on highway funding

Democratic congressman urges industry to keep pushing for fuel-tax hike.

ORLANDO. With two members of President Trump’s Cabinet giving keynote speeches, and billboards showcasing the trucking industry’s visit to the White House earlier this year blanketing the Orange County Convention Center, much of the 2017 American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference & Exhibition had a noticeable Republican feel.

But at a meeting of ATA’s highway policy committee, there was a display of something too often missing in today’s political debate: bipartisanship.

Inside a small conference room, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and members of the committee met for about 30 minutes, attempting to find ways to advance long-term infrastructure funding at the federal level. (A second speaker from the majority staff of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee was closed to the press).

“The infrastructure paralysis we have seen is a bipartisan issue,” said Blumenauer, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee and past T&I member.

He was critical of current plans in Congress to handle tax reform before considering infrastructure funding, calling it a “terrific mistake.” At the same time, he expressed disappointment President Obama had failed to make raising federal fuel taxes a higher priority until the very end of his term.

It is that attitude that led Chris Spear, president and CEO of ATA, to tell the committee that no member of Congress has “worked as hard to cultivate bipartisan support for common sense policy” than Blumenauer.

Spear credited him with never turning his back on his party, but also never putting his party ahead of the interests of the nation.

“We need more people like Earl,” Spear said.

Blumenauer heaped praise on trucking’s efforts to push for infrastructure funding and urged them to continue working to help fill in the details as President Trump develops his $1 trillion infrastructure proposal.

Tommy Hodges, a past ATA chairman who now leads Titan Transfer in Tennessee, expressed frustration that too many lawmakers from both parties have told him they fear being voted out of office if they support raising fuel taxes.

Blumenauer responded that the fact more Republican-leaning states had passed fuel tax increases, including South Carolina and Tennessee, has him believing “we are closer than you think” to a funding breakthrough.

Besides raising fuel taxes, and indexing them to inflation, Blumenauer said now is the time to think about a “long-term solution that is sustainable.”

Blumenauer noted his home state of Oregon has been testing road-user fees, the type of system that will be needed nationwide as the growth of electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles further erode the spending power of fuel taxes.

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