GOP chairman: Highway funding likely to remain flat

GOP chairman: Highway funding likely to remain flat

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee said Tuesday that lawmakers are unlikely to approve an increase in the nation's infrastructure spending in an extension of a federal transportation funding bill that is expiring next month. 

Transportation advocates have pushed Congress to increase the approximately $50 billion per year it spends on infrastructure projects as it considers an extension of surface transportation bill that is currently scheduled to expire on May 31. 

Lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of measure before the deadline, and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Monday it is unlikely they will be able to scrap up an extra funds for road and transit projects. 

ADVERTISEMENT
"I'm nudging [House Ways and Means Committee Chairman] Paul Ryan as best I can, but it's going to be at least at the same levels," Shuster said at an event that was hosted by National Journal

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion on transportation projects. The traditional source of revenue for the spending has been revenue that is collected by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, but the fuel levy only brings in about $34 billion per year. 

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the budget to close the $16 billion gap. 

Shuster said Monday that it would take more than half that amount just to extend the transportation funding until the end of the federal government's fiscal year in September. 

"It's about $10 billion, and we don't have the exact offset yet," he said.  

Lawmakers in both parties have expressed a desire to extend the transportation funding measure, but consensus about a way to pay for it has been elusive. 

Shuster said he has had heard from transportation advocates that it is more important to long-term infrastructure funding extension than it is to increase the amount of annual funding. 

"What I learned traveling the country, giving people the choice  more money and a shorter term bill or about the same money and a long-term bill, it's unanimous, everybody wants that five or six years of certainty," he said.

Transportation advocates have pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for an extension of the federal infrastructure funding, arguing that the current funding level is barely enough to maintain the existing state of the nation's road and transit systems. 

Shuster said it was unlikely such an increase could be approved by the Republican-led houses of Congress. 

"When you have the president and the leadership of both houses at different times and different parties saying no…I'm for what's possible and I don't think at this point that's possible," he said. 

Shuster said it would be more appropriate for lawmakers to talk about the possibility of increasing the gas tax after they find a way to pay to beat the May 31 deadline for extending the current transportation funding measure. 

 

"I do believe that after we get done and the president signs a five-year bill, the stakeholders and members of Congress that care about it have to really start figuring out how and start to try to move the country in a way…how do we fund this, what's acceptable to the America people and members of Congress," he said.