Bill would eliminate past earmarks to free up money for highways

Bill would eliminate past earmarks to free up money for highways
© Getty Images

A Republican senator is pushing legislation to eliminate earmarks that were included in past transportation funding bills that are still on the federal books. 

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCorker pressed as reelection challenges mount -trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground Senate votes down Paul's bid to revoke war authorizations MORE (R-Ariz.) said the measure could generate about $2 billion that could be used to pay for a new transportation funding measure this year as Congress is scrambling to come up with a way to beat a July 31 deadline for the expiration of the infrastructure spending measure. 

Flake cited a report from the Congressional Research Service that there are 70 earmarks that are worth more than $120 million still on the books from transportation bill that were passed between 1989 and 2004, although Congress officially abolished the practice when Republicans took over the House in 2010.  

ADVERTISEMENT
Flake said there are  another 1,200 earmarks that will become "orphaned" because the projects they were intended to pay for have been scrapped in August. 

The Arizona senator said his is introducing his "Jurassic Pork Act" (S. 1544) because it will take another act of Congress to free up the money that is tied up in the earmarks that were approved before the practice became taboo in Washington. 

“Billions of dollars sit in federal transportation accounts and can’t be moved unless legislation such as this passes,” Flake said in a statement when the measure was introduced on June 12. “We need to claw these orphan earmarks back and send the money to the Highway Trust Fund, which needs it desperately.”

The measure to eliminate passed earmarks from past transportation bills comes as lawmakers are scrambling to prevent an interruption in the nation's infrastructure spending next month. 

The current transportation funding measure is scheduled to expire on July 31, and it has been a decade since Congress has passed an extension that last longer than two years. 

Lawmakers are struggling to come up with a way to close a gap in transportation funding that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion to close the gap long enough to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill, which is the length being sought by the Obama administration and transportation supporters.

The federal gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents-per-gallon, has been the traditional source of transportation funding since its inception in the 1930's. But the tax has not been increased since 1993, and improvements in auto fuel efficiency have sapped its purchasing power. 

Transportation supporters have pushed for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term transportation bill, but Republican lawmakers have ruled out such a hike

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the transportation funding gap in recent years, resulting in temporary fixes such as a two-month patch that was approved by lawmakers last month. 

Transportation advocates have complained that temporary extensions are preventing state and local governments from completing long-term infrastructure projects that are badly need.