Murray: ‘The window is closing’ for transportation funding fix

Lauren Schneiderman

The chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee said Monday that “the window is closing” for lawmakers to approve a fix for federal transportation funding. 

Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a pay for a new transportation funding before a bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund that has been projected to occur in August unless Congress acts to stop it. 

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Monday that lawmakers should get moving on finding a solution quickly. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“The window is closing for Congress to reach an agreement and stop the slide toward a completely unnecessary Highway Trust Fund crisis,” Murray said in a statement. 

“We have bipartisan agreement that we should not cut our investments in roads, bridges, and transit systems,” she continued. “With highway projects and construction jobs on the line, there is no reason to lurch toward another crisis. I am hopeful Democrats and Republicans can come together to replenish the Highway Trust Fund with revenue to make these critical investments for states, workers, and drivers around the country.”

The current transportation funding bill is not scheduled to expire until the end of September. The Department of Transportation has said that it will run out of money for transportation disbursements to states well at least a month before the deadline, adding additional pressure to congressional infrastructure funding negotiations, however.

The traditional funding source for transportation projects has long been revenue that is collected from the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents-per-gallon. 

The tax has not be increased since 1993, however, and receipts have been outpaced by the nation’s  infrastructure expenses by about $16 billion per year in recent years as cars have become more fuel efficient and driving among U.S. residents has declined slightly. 

The transportation funding bill that expires in September contains approximately $50 billion worth of road and transit spending. Lawmakers in the Senate are trying to preserve at least that level of funding in a reauthorization of that measure, which was signed into law in 2012. 

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) proposed last week that lawmakers enact a 12-cent increase in the gas over the next two years to help close the transportation funding gap. The lawmakers said the gradually gas tax increase would bring in about $164 billion that could easily fill the Highway Trust Fund’s coffers for the length of a long-term transportation bill. 

Infrastructure advocates cheered the gas tax increase proposal, but the White House said Monday that President Obama is opposed to increasing the taxes that are paid by drivers on their gasoline purchases in an election year. 

"That's something that we've said a couple of times that we wouldn't support," new White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

Obama has prodded Congress to approve a new round of transportation funding to prevent the transportation funding bankruptcy for most of the year. But Obama has suggested that lawmakers instead use revenue from a corporate tax reform proposal, considered unlikely to become law this year.

Obama has encouraged Congress to approve a four-year, $302 billion transportation bill that would increase the annual funding for infrastructure to about $75 billion.

Murray has said that she supports the proposal to use tax reform revenue to close the transportation funding gap too.