Boxer to issue 'mayday warning' on transportation funding

Greg Nash

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is planning to declare that the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund is “facing a mayday situation and urgent action is needed,” her office said. 

The announcement comes a day after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he was preparing to move forward with a three-month stopgap that would only extend transportation funding until after the midterm elections. 

Boxer, who is chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has proposed that lawmakers approve a six-year, $265 billion transportation bill. The California lawmaker has deferred the decision on paying for the transportation bill beyond the approximately $34 billion that is collected by the federal gas tax to the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the funding sources for the package. 

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The gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents-per-gallon, has long been the traditional source of funding for federal transportation projects. However, infrastructure expenses have outpaced revenue from the tax by about $16 billion annually in recent years as cars have become more fuel efficient. 

The gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and it was not indexed to inflation when it was last hiked 21 years ago. 

The current transportation bill that is scheduled to expire in September includes approximately $50 billion in infrastructure funding, which is the level of spending that Boxer is trying to maintain in her bill. 

Complicating the deadline facing lawmakers further, the transportation department has said that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August if Congress does not act to prevent it. 

Boxer is scheduled to appear Wednesday with representatives of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA); U.S. Chamber of Commerce; American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO); Associated General Contractors (AGC); AFL-CIO; Associated Equipment Distributors (AED); National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association (NSSGA); National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA; American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and International Union of Operating Engineers. 

Many of the groups have called for Congress to increase the gas tax for the first time in more than 20 years to close the transportation funding shortfall. Lawmakers have been reticent to increase the amount of taxes that are paid by drivers in the middle of an election year, however.