Engineering Influence sat down with Rep. Dina Titus (NV-1) at the Moving America Forward presidential candidate forum on infrastructure in Las Vegas. We discussed the current infrastructure proposal in the House, prospects for congressional action on FAST Act reauthorization and what the candidates for the White House should say about infrastructure investment.
Host: Welcome to another edition of Engineering Influence, a podcast by the American Council of Engineering Companies coming to you from Las Vegas at the site of the first ever single issue, presidential candidate forum focused on infrastructure, which is a long time coming and we're joined with a number of the presidential candidates, vice president Biden, Senator, Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, and Pete Buttigieg. And I'm very, very pleased to be joined by Representative Dina Titus who represents Clark County in Congress. She is also a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a member of the Subcommittee on Aviation, which is an issue that already popped up with the PFC charge and vice president Biden saying that he would support that. That was welcome news and I want to welcome you first onto our program and to get your kind of thoughts on where things are right now, both on the Committee in Congress for infrastructure and what the outlook looks like.
Rep. Titus: Well, thank you for having me. I'm very excited that this forum is right in the heart of my district and on the campus of UNLV where I taught for 35 years. I enjoy serving on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee because it's so important to Las Vegas. You know, we are growing constantly. We're building new stadiums, new convention centers, expanding roads. And so these are important issues on the Committee right now. Just recently, Chairman De Fazio has released a draft and that's what they're calling it. It's not legislation yet, but just to get the ball rolling on infrastructure. When the president first took office he was talking about infrastructure, he promised $3 trillion. It's gone nowhere. So now we need to really get down to the nuts and bolts of it. And of course, the big question is how do you pay?
Host: Absolutely. That's the big question. And there's been talk all over the place. I mean, a lot of the States have - over 30 states - have taken it upon themselves to address their user fees. There's talk about VMT, there's talk about the bridge to that next funding scheme. What are your thoughts on that? The best way to address the actual revenue stream going into the highway trust fund?
Rep. Titus: Well, you've got to raise the gas tax that hasn't been done since the early 1990s and then you have to trigger it to increases that go in effect automatically. The state of Nevada did that. You did that here in Clark County and it wasn't a political issue because people know we need infrastructure. So I think you look at that, but that's not enough with so many electric cars and also with cars that are getting better mileage, we've got to figure out a way that all users can contribute.
Host: That's a really good point because something that a lot of people might think about is that when they see a Tesla on the road, they're not paying into the user fee. And it's an interesting thing. It's, it was brought up in the last Congress about how do you capture that? And I remember Chairman Shuster put out that draft proposal where it was talking about capturing some of those, you know, free riders on the system, I guess you could say on the Republican side. There's always been that feeling of saying, okay, well gas tax is a third rail. With so many states and Nevada included taking action on their own. Do you think there's any crack in that argument that saying that? No, it's actually not a political third rail. The movement to where we have to address those revenues?
Rep. Titus: Well I think you do have to and that can be a combination of things. You know, it would be interesting if we had earmarks again because that might incentivize some of these Republicans to vote for a gas tax. So everybody likes to cut a ribbon and hand out a check. And if you make 'em make those where they're transparent and only go to public entities so the whole system can't be abused, that might be a way to move this ball forward.
Host: And I know that that was brought up a little bit in conversation by the Chairman. And, and I don't think it was really part of that draft proposal specifically. Do you see that issue moving in the Democratic Caucus for bringing back those earmarks?
Rep. Titus: Well, I know Steny Hoyer supports it. Our leader, not speaker, but leader, but he's not going to move it without it being bipartisan, but both sides have to agree to it so that the other side won't use it against people in vulnerable.
Host: Well that's something that, that you know, as an association, ACEC is supportive of as well cause we think that's a good way of moving projects forward. And if you can do it in such a way where you actually have accountability...
Rep. Titus: That's right and transparency.
Host: Absolutely, but it's critically important that the money that, that Congress is constitutionally mandated to be you know appropriating it goes to the right places.
Rep. Titus: And I'd much rather people here in Nevada be making decisions about what our needs are than some bureaucrat in Washington who's not knowing exactly how it works here.
Host: Absolutely. from your position on the Aviation Subcommittee, PFCs were brought up at the forum already. Where do you see that going at the Committee level?
Rep. Titus: Well, I know the Chairman supports it and so I suspect that it will be put forward. The airlines are against it, but certainly the airports are for it and and many of the members are, and you need that funding for you know, keeping airports up today, then expanded and being able to serve not just people but also commerce.
Host: Absolutely. I guess from the forum perspective, we have a lot of presidential candidates here. What are you hoping to come out of this this event? It's first of its kind specifically focused on infrastructure. What are you hoping to come out of it?
Rep. Titus: Well, this kind of setting is much better than a debate because you have a length of time with each candidate. You can get more in depth into the issues in a debate with a bunch of people on the stage it's just hit or miss. So I think there'll be some pretty serious discussion about infrastructure. Shouldn't be ideological, shouldn't be everybody needs bridges and roads. So I think this is a good way to approach the topic and get some commitment to move forward.
Host: And I know that you're short on time, so I just wanted to kind of end it out by saying, if you have a message for the engineering community in Nevada and of course in Clark County anything that you want to say to them?
Rep. Titus: Well, they are a vital part of certainly any kind of infrastructure, whether it's water pipes or highways or railroads, and talk about railroads. We want to speed train from here to Southern California. I learned early on, you don't just talk about shovel ready projects. You talk about pencil ready, and that's where the engineers come into play.
Host: Well, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it. Good luck today and of course, back in Congress and look forward to a very successful legislative session.
Rep. Titus: Well, thank you. And stay in touch with me as this moves forward through the Committee.
Host: Absolutely. Thank you.