Tomorrow marks the end of Anthony Foxx’s first month as the U.S. secretary of transportation. Today he met with reporters who have been eager for an on-the-record meeting with him.
Sec. Anthony Foxx told reporters that not all important transportation projects turn a profit. Photo by Nancy Pierce, Charlotte Business Journal
Though Foxx has been confident and specific in answering questions by members of Congress, he was more reserved with the press gaggle. He repeated some comfortable administration talking points, even at one point making reference to “places like Peoria” — his predecessor’s hometown.
He signaled that he would continue Ray LaHood’s legacy of running a well-rounded department, not just a highway department in disguise. “From where I sit, we’ve got to look at our transportation network in a multimodal fashion,” he said. “We may be in a situation where the most important priority in your part of the country is keeping Amtrak service or a transit system, and in another part of the country it may be highway investment. I think the either/or language around transportation isn’t always helpful. We need a both/and strategy for how we deal with it that is tailored to the communities that we’re serving.”
Foxx’s meeting with the press came two days after President Obama offered a “grand bargain” to trade infrastructure spending (a Democratic priority) for a corporate tax cut (a bone to Republicans). One reporter asked if this was the “big, bold vision” LaHood had intimated we would be seeing from the president. “I would classify what the president rolled out this week as pretty bold,” Foxx said, “because it points out a pathway to aggressively dealing with state of good repair in this country across a lot of modes, including transit, including — potentially — highways.”
The effect of federal dithering over funding isn’t lost on Foxx, but the administration just isn’t ready to make any concrete proposals. While he said sequestration was a “blunt instrument” that has dealt a “tough blow” to the transportation sector, he didn’t offer a revenue solution that would allow more spending without deficit spending.
He did say that he didn’t favor the approach some conservatives take of eliminating federal support for everything but highways and aviation. “That would leave an awful lot on the cutting room floor,” he said, “and impact our ability to create jobs and opportunities long term in a variety of spaces, not to mention limiting our ability to keep the traveling public safe.”
But will the administration put forward a concrete proposal — besides spending supposed war savings — to fund transportation? “The administration has put proposals out,” Foxx said. He repeatedly dodged the question of whether he would support a long-overdue hike to the gas tax or any other specific proposal.
As we mentioned last week, no one wants to go first in proposing a gas tax increase or a VMT fee, and so we hear many echoes of Foxx’s assertion that whatever solution eventually arises “is going to be the product of a dialogue – it’s not going to be a monologue.” That dialogue is going to need to start with some brave soul throwing out a proposal, and it appears that Anthony Foxx has no desire to be that brave soul.