Ryan Opening Statement: Finding a Long-Term Solution to Pay for America’s Roads and Bridges

June 17, 2015 — Press Releases   
Highway Trust Fund    Tax Reform   
Full Committee   

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

WASHINGTON — Today, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) delivered the following opening statement during a hearing on finding a long-term solution to pay for America’s roads and bridges.

“First, I want to thank Chairman Reichert of the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures. He’s done a lot of hard work on this topic, and he is one of our team leaders. I also want to thank our witnesses: Chad Shirley from CBO, Robert Poole from the Reason Foundation, and former governor Bill Graves from the American Trucking Association—and the great state of Kansas. Everybody here holds all three of you in high regard. And I’m looking forward to an informative discussion.

“Because we need your ideas. The roads, bridges, and highways of this country are in a sorry state. And the Highway Trust Fund that pays for them is broke.

“But instead of fixing the problem, we’ve dodged it. Five times we’ve come up with temporary solutions and transferred money from the general fund into the trust fund—which, in English, means we’ve patched a pothole and not fixed the problem. We’re talking over $63 billion in total. And according to the latest projections, we’re looking at a $168 billion shortfall over the next ten years.

“So things are only getting worse. We need to find a real, long-term solution.

“Now, ever since we built the Interstate Highway System, we’ve had a simple principle: ‘user pays.’ The people who use the highways should pay for the highways—so far, mostly through the gas tax.

“The problem is, the current ‘user pays’ system just doesn’t pay enough. Ever since 2008, the trust fund has spent more than it took in. And the reason is simple: People have been using less gas. They’re driving more fuel-efficient cars. You get a lot more miles to the gallon than you used to. And so gas just doesn’t track use as well as it used to. And we can’t just chase fuel efficiency with higher taxes.

“So I want to make very clear: I’m against raising the gas tax. There’s not much happening in this economy to help it grow, but lower gas prices is one of them. Working families have been struggling for years to get by. They’ve looked high and low for good-paying jobs. Their paychecks haven’t grown much at all. And now they’re finally catching a break. It would be downright unfair to take that away from them. So we are not raising gas taxes—plain and simple.

“We are confronted with a big problem. And there’s no easy solution. By the end of July, the highway trust fund will begin running out of money—again. I was hoping last month that we could have extended the highway trust fund through the end of the year, but that ran into last-minute opposition. It’s going to be difficult to reach consensus on a permanent solution.

“But there are lots of ideas out there. And that’s why we’re here today: to hear more about them. There’s talk of handing more authority over to the states . . . making greater use of tolls . . . creating more public-private partnerships. There are a lot of ideas worthy of consideration. But either way, we need to find a real solution—a permanent solution.

“So again I want to thank our witnesses. We appreciate your taking the time to speak with us. I’m looking forward to hearing your testimony. And all I can say is, ‘We’re all ears.’ Thank you.”