Senate schedules highway bill markup

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The Senate has scheduled a hearing to mark up its version of a bill to extend federal transportation funding beyond a scheduled September cut-off.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said Thursday that it would unveil its road and transit funding bill on May 12 and hold a mark up on it May 15.

President Obama has suggested that lawmakers approve a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill.

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Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Thursday that the upper chamber's bill would last six years and call for funding transportation projects at the current level of approximately $50 billion adjusted for inflation, however.

"This job-creating legislation provides the long-term funding certainty that states, cities, and businesses need while maintaining and improving the efficiency of the successful TIFIA program and establishing a formula-based freight program to improve the movement of goods on our surface transportation system," said Boxer, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The current transportation funding measure, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.

Confronting the pressure facing lawmakers on transportation funding is a projected bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund that non-partisan budget analysts have said could occur as early as August.

The transportation trust fund is usually filled with revenue that is collected from the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax. The gas tax has not been increased since 1993 and receipts are being outpaced by infrastructure expenses by an estimated $20 billion per year now, however.

The gas tax typically brings in about $34 billion per year, but the current transportation bill contains more than $50 billion in road and transit spending even with the 2013 sequester budget cuts factored in.

The top ranking Republican on the Senate Public Works, Sen. David Vitter (La.), said it was a bipartisan goal to solve the transportation funding problem.

“It’s time to restore trust in the Highway Trust Fund and to build and fix our nation’s roads and bridges so people can carry out their daily routines," Vitter said in a statement. "We’ll remain focused on a long-term reauthorization bill that invests in rural areas, expands flexibility for state and local governments, and improves safety. And it’s incredibly important that we get projects streamlined and cut long bureaucratic waits.”

Lawmakers on the Senate panel did not say how they intend to pay for their transportation proposal.

Obama's recommendation relies on using approximately $150 billion for a corporate tax reform proposal that is considered unlikely to become law this year.

Some Democrats have pushed to increase the gas tax to approximately 33 cents per gallon, arguing that the fuel levy would be near that amount now if it had been indexed to inflation when it was last hiked in 1993.

Republicans -- and the Obama administration -- have opposed the idea of increasing the amount of money drivers have to pay at the pump when they fill up their gas tanks in an election year, however.

The lawmakers on the Senate Public Works Committee said they will unveil the legislative language of their proposal on Monday ahead of the scheduled Thursday hearing.