U.S. Rep. Ribble calls for funding nation's transportation system without deficit spending

As lawmakers continue to grapple with how to pay for roads and bridges, U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble on Thursday called on stakeholders to push members of Congress to pay for the country’s infrastructure now, and not through deficit spending.

That could come in the form of raising the federal gas tax, as several groups and lawmakers have called for, or repatriation for companies, a method that has been pushed by the White House, he said.

The Wisconsin Republican said he usually opposes increases, but the deficit spending habits Congress has ascribed to equates to taxing future generations.

“Every single time we vote for a deficit, we are voting to raise taxes on our 12-year-olds,” he told members of international trade association Associated Equipment Distributors. “When you get your mind around that core concept … it simplifies things.”

His words come just days after President Obama signed another short-term extension for the Highway Trust Fund to avoid a May 31 expiration. Congress now has through the end of July to come up with a funding solution, but lawmakers remain divided on how to best handle that.

To Ribble, a former businessman and a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the solution is simple: If something is important enough to borrow money for, it is important enough to pay for. Apply that philosophy to infrastructure.

“The time has come for us to say we have to stand up and take care of this thing,” he said. “Or we’re going to end up giving our children a large debt and an infrastructure that doesn’t meet the demands of a global economy.

Ribble is not alone in calling for raising the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in more than 20 years. Others who have called for it include lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, unions and contractors. It goes beyond ideology, he said. Everyone around the country uses roads and flies out of airports.

Ribble noted that another part of the trouble is that the president and House and Senate leadership remain reluctant to the increase.

“They think there’s some magic bullet,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a gas tax or repatriation. I don’t care what it is, as long as we pay for it. It might be a combination of a whole bunch of things.”

Many infrastructure-related groups, including the Associated Equipment Distributors, which represents the construction equipment industry, are calling for more investment in the nation's roads and bridges to help support the U.S. economy. The AED was having its annual conference in Washington this week.