Legislation: On (Re)Building Bridges & Exporting Crude

By 
Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Retail Executive Platform Director, Winsight

Be careful crossing your local bridges.

It’s no secret that our country’s infrastructure is less than gleaming. Reports of cracks across our network of highways are crossing from New Jersey to California.

And the news isn’t getting any better. Political paralysis in D.C. is butting up against a harsh reality: The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) becomes insolvent May 31, putting at risk numerous federally funded infrastructure projects.

Earlier this year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its latest projection, showing that while HTF revenues were expected to generate $34 billion in the fiscal year, outlays were projected at $46 billion.

GOP Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), a prominent player in energy policy, said he’s open to increasing the federal gas tax as long as it’s tied to cuts elsewhere in the federal tax code.

Speaking during a Senate committee hearing, Vitter cited two other options to boost HTF coffers: taxing oversees corporate income and expanding U.S. energy production.

“I think that’s the short list of real-word, practical solutions,” he said. Based on current revenue and spending trends, HTF faces a cumulative shortfall of roughly $169 billion over the next 10 years, according to its CBO. So be careful about crossing that bridge.


Crude Awakening

It’s one of those emotional topics that can cross party lines. Stoked by memories of long lines at the pump and OPEC mania, Congress decades ago imposed a ban on crude-oil exports. The measure touched on energy independence, national security and images of patriotism.

But with America now emerging as a prodigious power in natural gas, members of both political parties have spoken excitedly about lifting the ban and allowing the United States to send out to other countries what it produces here.

Not so fast: U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), a pretty powerful guy who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power (yes, try to fi t that on one business card), recently put a padlock on the issue.

“Existing energy policy was not created overnight,” he said, “nor will any changes to it happen overnight.” Whitfield was  backed by the even-more-powerful Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who heads the full Energy and Commerce Committee.


Indicators

$6 billion

That’s how much the U.S. Highway Trust Fund is forecasted to spend in the current fiscal year, which expires May 31. Only one problem: It’s $12 billion short. Can anyone spare a dime, or a billion?

$1.15

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley proposes to raise the state’s cigarette tax from 42.5 cents to $1.15 per pack. Bentley’s proposal makes the House’s proposed cigarette tax increase to 75 cents a pack seem a lot less odious.

$12.25

March Madness came to Oakland, where minimum-wage workers saw an instant raise. Hourly wages soared from $9 an hour to $12.25, making it the highest minimum wage in the Bay Area.

While workers celebrated, some businesses and restaurants feared the spike would force them to raise menu prices and cut employee hours. Some eateries seeking a third way said they planned to impose a 20% service charge in lieu of a tip, with part of the fee going toward the restaurant’s revenue.