Transportation

Paul Ryan seeking $10B for highway fund

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is working on a short-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund. 

The Wisconsin Republican on Thursday said he is running the numbers on a $10 billion patch that would keep road and infrastructure money flowing for the rest of 2015. 

“We don’t need all that time, but like with tax reform, we just need the Senate,” Ryan said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

Ryan said that if lawmakers can’t find revenue to shore up the trust fund by passing a tax reform bill through repatriation, they will have to keep turn to shorter transportation funding measures. 

“If we don’t get repatriation because we don’t get a tax reform package, then we’re going have to do something like MAP-21 times three,” he said, referencing the the 2012 transportation funding measure that was called the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.

“MAP-21 was a two-year deal,” Ryan continued. “Our goal is to get a six-year bill. And so we’ll have to put together a combination or pay-fors to fill the gap and that’s what we’re working on.”

{mosads}The 2012 transportation funding measure included approximately $109 billion for two years’ worth of transportation projects. The measure was extended temporarily last summer, and it is set to expire on May 31. 

Transportation advocates have pushed for a longer transportation funding measure this time, saying that a five- or six-year bill would give states more certainty that federal money is coming to help them complete large infrastructure projects.  

Lawmakers in both parties have expressed a desire to pass a long-term transportation bill this year, but they have struggled to come up with a way to pay for it. 

Ryan said Thursday that he would prefer to work out a deal with Democrats to use revenue from taxing corporate profits overseas to pay for a long-term transportation bill. 

But he said the process, known as repatriation, only works if it is part of larger tax reform.

“We have to exhaust the possibility that we can do that with the administration,” he said. 

Democrats and Republicans have touted repatriation as a substitute for raising the federal gas tax to solve the transportation funding shortfall, but the parties disagree on whether the tax should be voluntary or mandatory.  

Ryan said that he is working on a backup plan to patch the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund, which takes in money from the gas tax, in case repatriation takes longer than expected.

“If we can’t [get repatriation], we’ll go to plan B to put together a pay-for package for a multi-year highway bill,” he said. 

The Obama administration has said the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in July or August unless Congress takes action. 

Ryan said he would need a combination of funding sources to fill the gap in the trust fund, which is estimated to be about $16 billion per year.  

Transportation advocates have argued that raising the gas tax, which is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, would be the easiest solution. 

But Ryan said asking drivers to pay more at the pump isn’t an option.

“We’re not going to raise gas taxes,” he said.

The gas tax has been the traditional source of federal transportation since its inception in the 1930s, but it has not been increased since 1993, and improvements in fuel efficiency have sapped its purchasing power. 

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

Ryan said Thursday he is still working on a fix for the Highway Trust Fund shortfall with Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), that panel’s ranking member.

-This story was updated on May 1 at 4:43 p.m. to clarify an earlier version. 

Tags Gas Tax Highway bill Highway Trust Fund MAP-21 Reauthorization Paul Ryan

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