Walters suggests tying SKILLS Visa Act to highway funding

With the authorization for the Highway Trust Fund set to expire at the end of July, Congress is debating the best way to pay for the nation’s infrastructure on a long-term basis. The federal gas tax no longer brings in enough revenue for highway and bridge funding. Congresswoman Mimi Walters (R-CA) has an innovative solution: use an estimated $500 billion-plus in federal revenue from the SKILLS Visa Act, which draws in foreign workers with science and technology backgrounds for the benefit of U.S. companies, to fund infrastructure.

Ripon Advance: Describe the SKILLS Visa Act and why it is important.

Walters: The SKILLS Visa Act is a bill, soon to be reintroduced by Congressman Darrell Issa in the 114th Congress, that would not only spur economic growth and bolster American competitiveness, but would also generate substantial revenue that could be used to fund the highway bill.

Ripon Advance: Why should tax revenue from the SKILLS Visa Act be used to fund transportation projects?

Walters: Unlike other short-term fix proposals, the SKILLS Visa Act would provide sustained revenue to the federal government and the highway trust fund. This idea is unorthodox, but the SKILLS Visa Act, as shown by the nonpartisan CBO score, would provide significant economic growth. It creates the opportunity to generate the revenue necessary to make critical infrastructure investments, which in turn would grow our economy without putting additional burdens on existing taxpayers.

Ripon Advance: Why does this option for funding transportation make more sense than raising the federal gas tax?

Walters: Raising the federal gas tax is simply a non-starter. In my homestate of California, we have one of the highest gas taxes in the nation. In our struggling economy, one of the few bright spots has been a decrease in gas prices. Increasing the federal gas tax would hurt every day Americans trying to make ends meet. Furthermore, a gas tax increase is an unreliable form of revenue. Congress needs a long-term, sustainable plan that will fund our nation’s transportation needs in a responsible and economical way.

Ripon Advance: How critical is the need for a long-term transportation funding plan?

Walters: It’s very critical that Congress puts forward a long-term transportation bill that will fund our nation’s roads and bridges. Our infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, allowing for movement of goods from manufacturers to the business to the consumer. A long-term bill provides certainty for states and localities that are charged with planning transportation projects. Further, it allows construction companies, contractors, and all other associated industries to sustain and create jobs. A long-term infrastructure bill is a jobs bill.

Ripon Advance: How important is having consistent and reliable highway funding to your home district in California?

Walters: My home district of Orange County is a major thoroughfare for goods movement from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the Inland Empire, where many warehouses and distribution centers are located. This means a significant number of trucks travel through the district on a daily basis. Additionally, Orange County’s population continues to grow, meaning more cars on our roads. Having a reliable and safe highway and bridge system ensures people can get to work and goods can move throughout the region.

Ripon Advance: How much support is there in Congress for using SKILLS Visa Act revenue for transportation?

Walters: This is a new idea, however it is gaining traction and support throughout Congress. I’m confident it will continue to be an important part of the discussion in finding a solution to fund a long-term transportation bill.

Congresswoman Walters represents California’s 45th Congressional District, based in Orange County. She sits on the Judiciary and the Transportation committees.