America Fast Forward Bill Unlikely To Have Real Impact, Expert Says
“It (the bill) could mean a lot, but chances are it will actually mean very little,” USC assistant professor and expert in transportation Lisa Schweitzer said.
The bill was passed in the Senate 74-22 in a rare show of bipartisanship. The bill will either save or create 1.8 million jobs across the country.
Schweitzer said that in order to understand the bill, known as America Fast Forward, one should understand problems the Highway Trust Fund has faced, dating back to at least 2009.
In 2009, the fund didn’t have enough money to reach its spending obligations and ran a $9 billion deficit. The federal gas tax had not been updated since 1993, causing even more problems because people are driving more now than they were 20 years ago and monetary problems caused by inflation.
In previous bills passed “Congress has basically voted to stay the course and not fix any of the problems,” Schweitzer said. “They have basically just been passing extensions.”
Schweitzer said that to “avoid running a deficient on the highway trust fund you should probably find a way in the short term to see if people will go for a small increase in the federal gas tax and then move over time to a more mileage-based tax.”
She said that President Barack Obama did not like this and instead took money out of the general fund and moved it to cover the deficient.
Then, because it is an election year and some people complained, Schweitzer said that Obama decided to take more money out of the general fund to pay for transit projects as well as closing the deficient.
To fix this, Senator Barbara Boxer (CA-D) created the America Fast Forward Bill in the Senate. The bill “could be significant if House Republicans go for it,” Schweitzer said.
The bill mainly does two things: eliminates earmarks and allows the federal government to give loans to cities to build transportation projects. The bill will give all local transit agencies the opportunity to compete for $2 billion worth of low-interest TIFIA loans, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
Under this plan, the government would be able to loan L.A. money to build transit projects. This would aid L.A.’s 30 in 10 plan to build major infrastructures in L.A.
Schweitzer said this is part of a new model where cities pay for their own infrastructure. People do not want to pay for infrastructure in cities other than their own, and this is a way of making cities responsible for their own projects.
Despite potential benefits, Schweitzer says the bill is not likely to pass in the House or accomplish much of anything.
“Boxer’s bill is essentially for all practical purposes another extension,” she said. “They have not found a way to close the deficit. They do not shake up the allegation of funding. They don’t really trim the funding in ways that are going to get House Republicans happy.”
Schweitzer said that no real change will come to transportation until one political party controls both the House and the Senate.
Reach executive producer Hannah Madans here.