Transportation Secretary weighs options for bipartisan infrastructure bill

White House officials are weighing their options for the sake of bipartisanship in an infrastructure plan following a meeting Monday.

During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. talked about his meeting with President Biden, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other lawmakers on Monday. There, the group talked about a separate proposal to address surface transportation, according to Hoeven, that could be similar to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s unanimously-passed bill from 2019.

“One of the things we talked about was putting together a bill proposal,” Hoeven said. “Obviously, the administration has its proposal, but another proposal, I suggested from the EPW committee, using the bill that they put forward on transportation and using that as a base to build a proposal.”

EPW’s America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act was a five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill that would have authorized $287 billion in funding.

Buttigieg said it was the administration’s goal to get bipartisan support.

“While I think certainly the scale and in some ways the scope of this plan is different, I think many of the principles that were present in that legislation are much aligned with what we’re talking about here,” Buttigieg said.

However, Buttigieg emphasized that the administration’s more than $2 trillion dollar American Jobs Plan is a “once in a lifetime investment,” and surface transportation could be contemplated with that plan or separately.

Over the past few weeks, senators have talked about having more than one bill. A group of GOP senators is working to put together a more traditional infrastructure bill that would range from $600 billion to $800 billion. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the administration’s objective was to listen to all proposals.

“But in terms of the ideas being put forward, we’re quite open to a range of mechanisms for agreed-upon legislation moving forward,” Psaki said. “Smaller packages, pieces being peeled off — right now there’s the nitty-gritty work going on in Congress where members are meeting, staffs are meeting, committee staff are meeting to discuss what’s possible, where there’s agreement. We welcome that.”

Sen. Hoeven also asked Buttigieg about his Move America Forward Act, which would provide authorization for $226 billion in tax-exempt private activity bonds and establish a federal infrastructure tax credit to encourage public-private partnerships. He cosponsored that legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

That bill was introduced in 2015, 2017 and most recently in 2019, but has yet to be reintroduced this year.

Buttigieg emphasized that the administration’s infrastructure plan was fully paid for through increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%.

“But with regard to how transportation infrastructure is funded generally or in regular order, there is certainly a lot of interest in making sure that we have sustainable funding patterns,” Buttigieg said. “I think that the private activity bonds program that we have in the department is an example of how those private dollars can and have been mobilized to benefit public policy purposes.”

PABs allow government entities to borrow on behalf of private parties for certain projects while maintaining the bonds’ tax-exempt status. They often support projects like high-occupancy toll lanes and bridges.

Buttigieg also noted throughout the hearing public-private partnerships could be a part of the “bigger picture on transportation.”

Buttigieg previously highlighted the importance of private activity bonds last month as a way to bring more private investment into infrastructure financing.

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