Infrastructure Financing Beyond Gas Tax Focus of Senate Measures

  • Bipartisan legislation would expand bond, loan programs
  • Trump skirts how to pay for building roads, bridges

Bipartisan Senate legislation to expand existing transportation tax-exempt bond and loan programs for surface transportation offers a glimpse at how the Senate might address financing an infrastructure or surface transportation bill in a new Congress without turning to tax increases.

President Donald Trump called for infrastructure legislation during his State of the Union speech Tuesday without offering any details on how to pay for a public works package. Democrats and Republicans are looking for pay-fors such as an increase in the federal motor fuels tax, a mileage-based used fee, and other alternatives to fund repairs and expansion of roads and bridges.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) is cosponsoring two bills, one with Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and another with Mark Warner (D-Va.). Cornyn and Warner both sit on the Senate Finance Committee, which would have jurisdiction over paying for any infrastructure legislation.

John Cornyn. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The draft bill with Warner would increase by $5.8 billion the amount of tax exempt Private Activity Bonds the Transportation Department could issue for highway and freight improvement projects.

“This bipartisan bill will help finance improvement projects through public-private partnerships, resulting in minimal cost to taxpayers with maximum impact on America’s roads, bridges, and rails,” Cornyn said in a statement about the Building United States Infrastructure and Leveraging Development (BUILD) Act, which would address Private Activity Bonds. The pair introduced similar legislation in 2018.

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Cornyn with Kaine also are again introducing the Revitalizing American Priorities for Infrastructure Development Act,to make it easier for state and local governments to apply for loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program,known as TIFIA.

Virginia’s Silver Line, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, and HOT lanes on I-495 were all financed under TIFIA, Kaine said when the pair offered similar legislation in the last Congress.

The TIFIA program offers direct loans, loan guarantees, or lines of credit to transportation projects of national or regional significance. The legislation would expand the type of projects that could qualify for an expedited review and would create new criteria for an existing fast-track application process, according to a summary of the bill.

Both proposals could become part of a surface transportation bill, which this Congress will need to reauthorize or extend before it expires at the end of 2020.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at; Robin Meszoly at