Advocates gear up for Senate highway vote

Advocates gear up for Senate highway vote
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Transportation advocates are gearing up for a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday on extending federal infrastructure funding until next spring and prevent a construction slow down while lawmakers are on recess next month. 

The Senate is scheduled to vote on a nearly $11 billion bill to refill the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund, which DOT officials say is set to run out of money next month without congressional action. 

The measure has already been approved by the House. All that stands between its passage in the Senate on Tuesday is a series of competing amendments that would alternatively eliminate the gas or shorten the House’s version to allow for a possible increase in the levy after this year’s election. 

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Advocates on both sides of the gas tax debate have begun attempting to influence lawmakers on the amendments.

“On behalf of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), which represents more than 900 manufacturers of construction, agricultural, forestry, utility and mining equipment, I want to urge you to support S. Amdt. 3583 (Carper-Corker-Boxer) during this week’s debate over H.R. 5021 (Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014),” AEM President Dennis Slater wrote in a letter to lawmakers. 

“I also strongly urge you to reject S. Amdt 3584 (Lee),” he continued. 

The amendment from Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTrump signs order removing environmental review of major projects GOP votes to give chairman authority to subpoena Obama officials Democratic senator to skip vote on Obama-era subpoenas MORE (D-Del.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump asserts his power over Republicans Romney is only GOP senator not on new White House coronavirus task force McConnell, Romney vie for influence over Trump's trial MORE (R-Tenn.) and Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerPolls show big bounce to Biden ahead of Super Tuesday Sanders poised for big Super Tuesday Establishment Democrats rallying behind Biden MORE (D-Calif.) would shorten the deadline for the expiration of the transportation funding extension from May 2015 to December 2014. The lawmakers argue that the shorter deadline would allow lawmakers to debate a long-term infrastructure funding extension during the lame duck session after the November midterms. 

Republicans have opposed the shorter deadline because they have accused Democrats of trying to “sneak” an increase in the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax past voters. 

The gas tax has been the traditional source for transportation projects since the creation of the Highway Trust Fund in the 1950’s. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and it has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient. 

Conservative groups in Washington are urging lawmakers to support Lee’s amendment, which would gradually reduce the gas tax from its current rate to 3.7 percent. 

During the same time period the gas tax is being reduced, Lee’s amendment would transfer authority over federal highways and transit programs to states and replace current congressional appropriations with block grants. 

The concept is commonly referred to as “devolution” in transportation circles. 

The Heritage Action foundation is urging lawmakers to vote against moving the expiration of transportation funding up until December and vote in favor of Lee’s amendment. 

“Introduced by Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Facebook employees speak up against content decisions | Trump's social media executive order on weak legal ground | Order divides conservatives The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US GOP deeply divided over Trump's social media crackdown MORE (R-UT), the Transportation Empowerment Act (S. 1702 ) would empower states by allowing them to keep and control their gasoline tax revenues, set their infrastructure priorities, control their transportation decisions, and partner with the private sector to meet local needs,” the group said. 

“Currently, American motorists and truckers pay  a federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon at the pump; the money is funneled into the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and funneled back to the states via complex congressional formulas, and billions are diverted each year to programs that do not improve congestion,” Heritage Action continued. “The current system increases the cost of projects…and subjects what should be local decisions to the whims of Washington bureaucrats or influential lobbyists.”

The Senate is scheduled to begin voting on the transportation funding measures on Tuesday afternoon.