DOT willing to accept 'purposeful' highway funding extension

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Feds create advisory panel for self-driving cars Safety agency falls behind in rulemaking for hazardous materials MORE said Tuesday that he can accept a temporary infrastructure funding extension, but only if lawmakers use the extra time to craft a longer version of the measure later this summer. 

Foxx told reporters during a briefing at the Transportation Department's headquarters in Washington that he could deal with "a purposeful which they are seriously trying to come up with a long-term solution to get us a longer-term bill to grow the investment and create sensible policy for the 21st century." 

But Foxx said lawmakers should not bother with a temporary infrastructure funding patch if they're not going to find a way to pay for longer road and transit spending measure. 

"If it's an extension for extension's sake, that's not a good idea because it's going to continue to freeze and immobilize state departments of transportation that are trying to find resources to get projects done," he said. 

"They are trying to figure their programs and work out right now and we've already had six states pull back close to $2 billion, and I expect that you'll see more states pulling back projects because of the federal funding uncertainty," Foxx continued. "More short-term extensions is not going to make America stronger." 

The comments came as lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a way to prevent an interruption of federal transportation funding on May 31, which is when the current infrastructure spending legislation is scheduled to expire. 

GOP leaders in the House said Thursday that passing a short-term extension is likely the only way they will be able to get to working on a longer transportation funding package like Foxx desires.    

"The ultimate goal is to do a long-term [bill], five to seven years. The best way to get to a long-term one is to probably do a short-term one first,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters at a news briefing in his office. 

"It may be the case that we have to do a short term to be able to do the long term,” he continued. 

Foxx said the transportation department has enough funding its coffers to make such a temporary extension possible, but he said he would only support it if lawmakers make clear they are still working on a longer bill. 

"I keep hearing folks are working on it," he said. "As I've said before, the receipts are trending towards maybe a late July-early August period in which we would go into dropping below the $4 billion in prudent balance and at that point having to go into cash management. So in theory they could extend to mid-summer." 

Foxx said lawmakers should use the energy it would take to find a way to pay for any extension that last longer than that on crafting a long-term transportation bill to eliminate the need for future funding patches. 

"My thought process is if they have to go back to the well and figure out an algorithm for extending more than just through the summer, create an algorithm for six years," he said. "Give America some certainty." 

Foxx said the request for long-term transportation funding is not a partisan issue. 

"This isn't just points of pride for us," he said of the Obama administration's push for long-term transportation bill. 

"We've got 31 Republican governors out there that need this money and need to put people to work," he said. "This isn't a partisan slap down. This is trying to get the country to work." 

-Scott Wong contributed to this report.