Senate scheduled to unveil transportation bill

Senate leaders are planning to unveil their version of a bill to extend federal transportation funding beyond a scheduled September cut-off on Monday.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee scheduled to hold a hearing to mark up up their transportation bill on Thursday.

The panel's Democratic leaders said last week that they would release the legislative text of the infrastructure funding measure on Monday to allow lawmakers to have time to review it before they have to vote on it.

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

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.

Boxer, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Public Works Committee, said the upper chamber's bill would be enough to prevent a bankruptcy in the trust fund that is used to pay for federal road and transit projects that has been projected to occur at the end of this summer.

"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," Boxer said.

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.

In addition to the looming deadline, lawmakers are grappling with 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, however, and receipts are being outpaced by infrastructure expenses by an estimated $20 billion per year now.

The gas tax typically brings in about $34 billion per year, but the current transportation bill contained more than $54 billion in road and transit spending before the 2013 sequester budget cuts were factored in.

Even with the sequester in place, the current transportation bill spends more than $50 billion on infrastructure projects.

Transportation observers will be watching to see how the Senate Public Works Committee intends 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. 

-This story was updated at 5:33 p.m. from an earlier version that incorrectly identifited the Senate committee that was releasing the transportation bill.