Outgoing Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he hasn’t spoken with his potential replacement, Elaine Chao, about policy issues. But he acknowledged she may face obstacles trying to usher President-elect Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan through Congress.
“I consider myself very lucky to have come in here in a time when there wasn’t as much bipartisanship as we’ve seen in previous eras to successfully push for a transportation bill. That was not an easy feat,” he told reporters at a pen and pad. “We’ll see what they’re able to do. The next Congress, the next White House will have an entirely different dynamic than the one that I walked into. And I wish them luck.”
Foxx has been at the helm of the Department of Transportation’s implementation of a five-year, $305 billion highway and transit spending bill known as the FAST Act. Enacted at the end of 2015, it was the first long-term surface transportation law to clear Congress in more than a decade.
But Trump has suggested that more can be done to improve the nation’s infrastructure. His transition team is currently developing a plan that they say would include tax breaks for private companies and the creation of an infrastructure bank.
The focus on public-private partnerships isn’t misguided, since it’s clear there is a lot of private capital sitting on the sidelines that could be applied to infrastructure projects, Foxx said. But there are also a large number of projects that will not be attractive to private investors, he added.
Transportation policy analysts have highlighted public transit as one of those areas because commuter systems do not generate a large amount of revenue.
It will be a challenge for the next administration to develop a funding plan for a major infrastructure package that would cover the costs of new projects while still being palatable to Congress, Foxx said.
In the lead-up to passage of the FAST Act, lawmakers introduced bills laying out several options, including raising federal fuel taxes and creating an infrastructure bank, but none won enough bipartisan support to move forward. Instead, the FAST Act pulled revenue from a number of non-transportation related measures like fees related to revoking passports from tax delinquent individuals.
Industry groups are hopeful that Chao, Trump’s pick for Transportation Secretary, might function as a bridge between the administration and Congress. Chao, a former Labor Secretary and former Deputy Chief of the Transportation Department, is also married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Foxx said he considers Chao to be a friend and has called her “one of the nicest people I’ve met in Washington.” He said he congratulated her on the nomination but has not discussed policy issues with her. Neither has he met with members of Trump’s transition team now working from the Transportation Department.
But he said he would make himself available, should the Trump administration seek his counsel on infrastructure proposals.
“If I’m asked, I will try to help where I feel like I can help because this issue of the nation’s infrastructure, it really is a critical issue,” Foxx said.
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