Senate to mark up highway bill

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

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is planning to take up its proposed six-year, $265 billion transportation bill.

The proposal is a departure from President Obama’s suggested four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that has been pushed hard in recent weeks by the Obama administration. 

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Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is the chairwoman of the Senate Public Works Committee, said last week that the upper chamber's bill would prevent a projected bankruptcy in federal transportation funding later this summer and maintain the current funding level of approximately $50 billion per year adjusted for inflation.

"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. 

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 now being outpaced by infrastructure expenses by an estimated $20 billion per year.

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 last week that 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 have not revealed how they intend to pay for their transportation proposal. 

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that lawmakers will have to find an extra $100 billion in addition to the gas tax revenue that is expected to be brought in to pay for a new six-year transportation funding package. 

The House has not weighed in on the transportation funding yet.