Five cabinet chiefs to testify before U.S. Senate on infrastructure

WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - The Trump administration will send five cabinet secretaries to a U.S. Senate hearing next week to tout its plan to spur $1.5 trillion infrastructure improvements using $200 billion in new federal funding.

The heads of the Transportation, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture and Labor departments will testify on March 14 before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. Democrats have criticized the plan, saying Republicans must agree to new revenue to fund projects, and that the plan shifts too much of the burden to states and cities.

"Testimony from these five cabinet secretaries will support a comprehensive public discussion with senators about the White House proposal for aligning federal resources with local infrastructure needs and helping complete projects faster, said Senator John Thune, who chairs the Commerce Committee.

Senate Democrats this week proposed $1 trillion in new federal spending paid for by repealing some tax cuts approved in December. Trump's proposal would fund the $200 billion federal contribution to infrastructure with cuts from other federal spending. It would also shift more costs to states and cities by reducing federal matching funds.

Trump's infrastructure plan unveiled in February would also eliminate bureaucratic roadblocks to completing projects that can tie up new roads for years.

Democrats insist that any plan must include new revenue, which could mean raising the federal gasoline tax. That levy has been 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, and inflation and rising vehicle fuel efficiency have reduced its usefulness in raising enough money to keep pace with repair needs.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Congress is likely to pass a series of five or six smaller infrastructure measures this year, rather than one big bill. Ryan ruled out a gasoline tax Wednesday, while Trump reportedly backed a 25 cents per gallon hike last month in a meeting with lawmakers last month.

Congress transferred $140 billion to the Highway Trust Fund since 2008. Lawmakers, to maintain current spending levels, would need to approve an additional $107 billion from 2021 through 2026.

The Trump administration also proposed unveil workforce training proposals, including expanding apprenticeships and seeking changes to federal work-study programs that typically are used by students at four-year institutions. It would allow more students interested in skilled trades to use them.

The administration also proposed requiring states that accept federal funds for infrastructure projects would have to accept workers with out-of-state skilled-trades licenses on those projects. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)