House chairman wants transportation bill by August

House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said on Tuesday that he wants the House to pass a new transportation funding bill by August to allow time for conference negotiations with the Senate.

The current funding bill, which is a $109 billion measure that was passed in 2012, expires in September.

“My hope is to get reauthorization done on time,” Shuster said. “We hope to take committee action in the late spring or early summer with the goal to be on the House floor before the August recess. This way there will be time to conference our bill with the Senate’s bill.”

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The comments came during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which Shuster promised will be the first of many about road and transit funding this year.

The Pennsylvania lawmaker said it was important that Congress avoid a repeat of the last transportation funding process, which saw the passage of seven short-term funding extensions before legislators reached a final agreement in 2012.

“Transportation is important — how people get to work, get their children to school, go to stores to buy food, clothing and other necessities, and how they visit family and friends,” he said. “It’s also about business. Transportation is a critical part of how the supply chain functions, how raw materials get to factories, how finished products get to markets, and how food gets from farms to our kitchens. It allows American businesses to be competitive in the global marketplace and for our economy to prosper and grow.”

Panelists at Tuesday’s hearing encouraged lawmakers to back up Shuster’s words with an increase in transportation funding.

The last transportation bill contained about $54 billion per year in road and transit funding, which infrastructure advocates said isn't nearly enough for the country’s road and transit needs.

Lawmakers were constrained because the traditional funding mechanism for transportation, the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, only brings in about $35 billion per year. The gap was filled in the 2012 with a package of fee increases and sweeps from other areas of the federal budget, a process lawmakers in both parties have promised to avoid repeating this time around.

The gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and it received little discussion during Tuesday’s hearing.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) encouraged lawmakers to “avoid flatlining [funding] commitments” in the next transportation bill.

"I would ask that you get a six year bill because a two-year bill is not very helpful to us," said Reed, who was testifying on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Lawmakers in both parties agree that is likely going to require finding a new funding source for transportation.

“Democrats have meeting about our major concern, which is the great dilemma of surface transportation,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said. “As our trust fund evaporates, and I don’t believe that is too harsh a word, whether we will be innovative enough to come up with a way to pay for this bill that will attract both Democratic and Republican support.”

Shuster did not endorse any specific funding proposals, saying only that he wanted the bill to be “built around key principles” and “fiscally responsible.”

“This bill needs to be fiscally responsible and to build on the reforms in MAP-21. We need to continue to reduce regulatory burdens,” the Transportation Committee chairman said. “And we need to make sure our federal partners have flexibility in how they spend their money and approve projects.”

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