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The Briefing: Why potholes probably are here to stay (Hint: Blame Washington)

WASHINGTON – Pothole season is upon us again, corresponding this year with just the latest of several Trump administration "infrastructure weeks."

Yes, these infrastructure weeks seem to come and go like the seasons, just like every other proposal to increase spending on highways, bridges, water systems, airports and the like.

Meanwhile the potholes seem to get deeper and more plentiful.

Why does this happen?

Because lots of people talk as if they want more federal infrastructure spending – but nobody wants to pay for it. The infrastructure plan President Trump outlined this week is perfect proof of that.

For years, the federal government has paid for 80 percent of the cost of federal highways, with the states picking up the rest. But under Trump's proposal, that formula would be reversed, leaving states and localities with 80 percent of the tab.

Yes, the Trump plan does call for $200 billion in new federal infrastructure spending, but he doesn't propose any way to come up with that money.

So read between the lines. There, you'll see that Trump doesn't want to spend big federal money on infrastructure.

Neither do lawmakers.

Congress last raised the federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel in 1993 – before Google, before Amazon, before Netscape, back when the Bills went to Super Bowls.

Now just imagine if you hadn't had a raise since 1993. You'd probably be broke – just like the highway trust fund.

For years, Congress has been transferring billions of dollars from general tax collections into the highway trust fund just to keep it solvent.

And still, those potholes multiply.

It's all happening, in part, because a dollar today isn't worth what a dollar was in 1993. If the 18.4-cent gas tax had just kept pace with inflation, the tax would be 31.56 cents a gallon today – and the federal government would be collecting an additional $13 billion this year alone to spend on infrastructure.

That would barely put a dent in the $1.263 trillion in infrastructure needs the nation faces over the next five years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which spells out those needs in an annual infrastructure report card.

Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, has proposed various bills over the years to try to fill the infrastructure gap.

But in a way, his latest proposal is further proof that nobody wants to pay for an infrastructure upgrade. It says the government can borrow up to $300 billion for the initiative, but leaves it up to the Treasury secretary and Transportation secretary to devise a way to fully pay for the plan.

Not that they have to worry about doing that anytime soon. Higgins' infrastructure bill has zero co-sponsors – in other words, zero momentum.

Think about that next time you dive deep into a pothole along the Scajaquada.

And remember that you get what you pay for. And what you don't.

Happening today

The Families of Continental Flight 3407 return to Washington to meet with lawmakers, as they always do on or around the Feb. 12 anniversary of the crash ... The Senate continues its work on immigration legislation to help the "Dreamers," with some signs that lawmakers may be approaching an agreement ... The House considers legislation to modify the Americans with Disabilities Act ... Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is expected to announce he will run for the U.S. Senate from Utah ... Trump meets with U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley.

Good reads:

With yet another school shooting, Vox updates its deep dive into gun violence in America ... In Vanity Fair, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus gives the inside story of his troubled time in the Trump White House ... The New York Times looks at how a favor can be bought these days at the Environmental Protection Agency ... The Washington Post tells that a sign saying "Resist White Supremacy" caused more trouble than you might expect ... And the Wall Street Journal reports that the cool kids are flocking to the Bronx these days.



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