The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for national policymakers to "seize the opportunity" to make major improvements in transportation and other infrastructure, and to include a sustainable revenue source for federal transportation programs.
"We can generate more [economic] growth and jobs by making America's infrastructure the best in the world," Donohue said in his annual "State of American Business Address" that he delivered Jan. 11 at the Chamber.
Noting that both political parties agree the nation needs more project investment, Donohue said: "We should seize the opportunity created by the bipartisan support for infrastructure."
He argued that "it would be a mistake to simply do more of the same old thing," and said "the projects we invest in must be determined by our national economic need for growth . . . That means taking on large-scale projects – airports, seaports, pipelines, an expanded power grid, broadband, air traffic control, secure and efficient borders, and intermodal transportation links – projects that help the entire country."
Donohue made his remarks the same day Elaine Chao appeared before a Senate committee on her nomination by President-elect Donald Trump to be his transportation secretary. Chao in her prepared remarks spoke of the Trump team's vision for incentivizing private-sector investors to finance infrastructure projects in addition to direct public funding.
The business group's CEO echoed what many in the transportation industry have been saying. "Private sector funding can and should play a much greater role in infrastructure," said Donohue. "Even so, a sustainable, long-term federal funding source must also be part of the equation."
Donohue added that "for years, the Chamber put an idea on the table – a modest increase in the federal gas tax, which hasn't been raised in 24 years," to shore up the Highway Trust Fund and cover its gap between its dedicated tax receipts and the much higher spending levels Congress authorizes.
He said hiking motor fuel fees "happens to be the simplest, fairest, and most straightforward solution," but that "we're open to other ideas" to lock in a long-term infrastructure funding stream.