"21st-century businesses need a 21st-century infrastructure." Photo: Whitehouse.gov video screen shot

"21st-century businesses need a 21st-century infrastructure." Photo: Whitehouse.gov video screen shot

UPDATED -- President Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to repeat his call to reform corporate taxes and spend some of the proceeds on a long-term highway bill.

His infrastructure message came in the context of a broader populist appeal for reforms that increase taxes on the wealthiest and ease the burden on the less well off.

“We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy,” he said.

Even in a divided Congress, there is bipartisan support for investment in infrastructure, he said. “Members of both parties have told me so.”

The money for the highway program, which is due for renewal in May, should come from closing tax loopholes that encourage businesses to keep their profits abroad, he said. “Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.”

This is the approach to infrastructure funding Obama has been pushing for several years – it echoes almost exactly the language he used in last year’s State of the Union address.

It is similar in some respects to the approach suggested by the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., but the new chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has not yet said what he has in mind for transportation funding.

Ryan’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Finance Committee, has said he opposes the idea of using repatriated tax dollars for infrastructure.

There’s not enough money in the approach, he told Politico. He did say that the Finance Committee is looking for other ways to pay for a multi-year bill.

American Trucking Associations officials voiced disappointment that President Obama failed to more fully flesh out his vision for a well-funded, long-term highway bill.

"Just mentioning infrastructure is not a solution to our nation's critical needs, and by simply bringing the topic up without details, President Obama missed an opportunity to underscore the critical role our highway system plays in our economic well being," said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves in a statement.

"Now is the time, with the Highway Trust Fund set to go bankrupt in May, to show vision and leadership and most importantly, find funding, to keep that from happening," Graves said.

ATA was represented at the State of the Union by First Vice Chairman Pat Thomas, vice president of global public affairs at UPS. Watch this video of Thomas discussing attending President Obama's annual address to Congress:

Updated 2:30 EST to add ATA response

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet

About the author
Oliver Patton

Oliver Patton

Former Washington Editor

Truck journalist 36 years, who joined Heavy Duty Trucking in 1998 and has retired. He was the trucking press’ leading authority on legislative and regulatory affairs.

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