Labor unions are adjusting to the new balance of power in Washington. The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, representing the workers who build, operate, and maintain highways and mass transit systems, is looking to work with the new Republican leadership in 2015 on a long-term surface transportation bill.
Transportation Trades Department president Ed Wytkind met Thursday with Sen. Tom Carper, D- Del., White House economic aide Byron Auguste, and Peter Rogoff, undersecretary of transportation for policy, to examine the agenda for the new Congress. Vice President Joe Biden stopped by the meeting as well.
Wytkind told us that it’s “well known on Capitol Hill” that “transportation unions are definitely a sector of the labor movement that have real, lasting, sustainable relationships on both sides of the aisle.”
He added that “we’re hearing leaders in both parties talking about a need to try to find some common ground. It is clear that one of the areas where they think they can find common ground is in the transportation infrastructure space. And that gives us some confidence.”
Several members of Congress, including soon-to-be House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., have voiced support for using repatriated U.S. corporate profits now held overseas to help pay for infrastructure.
We asked Wytkind about the risk of transportation funding getting enmeshed in a broader, time-consuming tax reform effort.
“If it becomes entangled in a difficult tax reform debate that spills over into the presidential election, if that’s the outcome of injecting the tax reform discussion into the debate about the surface transportation program, I believe that ends up being a real problem,” he said.
“However if tax reform is used more loosely to include updating the way in which we currently collect fees and taxes, and then incorporated that into a larger tax conversation, who knows, there’s a possibility” that members of Congress might find some common ground.
Wytkind thinks that there still is not a tight enough focus on the shortfall in the revenue that pays for the nation’s highways and mass transit.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cumulative shortfalls in both the highway and mass transit accounts within the Highway Trust Fund will reach $64 billion by Fiscal Year 2019.
Wytkind said that as he mulls over last’s weeks elections, he is still worried that “a segment of the new Congress coming in next year still doesn’t seem to have enough of an appreciation for the fact that when you repair or replace a bridge, or when you expand a transit or rail system, that that’s not excessive, unnecessary, pork barrel spending, that an investment in our country that can often have a life of 50, 60, 75 years.”