On June 3, Don Shilling, president of General Equipment and Supplies of Fargo, N.D., and the Associated Equipment Distributors' (AED) 2015 national chairman, called for bold, decisive action to restore certainty to the federal highway program.
In testimony before the House of Representatives Small Business Committee, Shilling drew on academic research, industry insight and his own three decades of experience in the construction markets of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. He overviewed the many ways equipment distributors – like all Americans – depend on good infrastructure and the commonsense policy needed to support it.
As the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) teeters on the brink of collapse, the potential loss of more than $50 billion in annual investment threatens $2.4 billion in equipment market activity and close to four thousand equipment dealership jobs. For General Equipment and Supplies, the national crisis has direct impact. Shilling reported lost sales, stalled expansion plans, retracted state contracts and increased dependence on rental business, which ties up cash that could be used to hire workers and invest in the company.
“While the economic harm being caused by the uncertainty is clear, so is the fact that enacting a new fully-funded, long-term highway bill would have broad economic benefits for our industry and beyond,” Shilling said.
Citing responses to an AED member survey to gauge the federal highway program’s impact, he continued: “For example, 91 percent of [AED] survey respondents said they would likely add employees if Congress passed a highway bill. Seventy-eight percent would purchase new service trucks and 91 percent would increase inventory levels … Forty-seven percent of our survey respondents, similar to my company, are likely to expand or improve existing facilities and more than a third would open new locations if Congress restores certainty to the program.”
To realize that potential, Shilling called on Congress to act. He cited AED-supported academic research indicating a small increase to the federal gas tax, followed by indexing it to inflation, would raise billions in additional revenues to support American roads and bridges over the next 20 years.
Noting that infrastructure spending is an investment that benefits the American economy while stimulating tax revenue, Shilling extolled: “All options should be on the table to fully fund the federal highway program well into the future and ensure a strong federal role in surface transportation investment.”
As Shilling spoke in the Rayburn House Office Building, equipment distributors from across the country prepared to deliver the same message to their own elected representatives during AED’s annual Washington Fly-In. The event, which continued through June 4, connected the leaders of small-medium sized businesses directly to their representatives and senators to share a simple truth: American infrastructure has a bright future, but the road ahead must be paved with responsible policy.