Feds implore Congress to fund roads

Feds implore Congress to fund roads
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Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxLyft sues New York over new driver minimum pay law Lyft confidentially files for IPO Hillicon Valley: Exclusive: Audit cleared Google's privacy practices despite security flaw | US weapon systems vulnerable to cyber attacks | Russian troll farm victim of arson attack | US telecom company finds 'manipulated' hardware MORE is imploring Congress to find the money to pay for a plan to spend $275 billion on the nation's roads over the next six years that was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday. 

The measure, known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act, calls for appropriating nearly $43 billion per year to the federal government's highway program until 2021 — if lawmakers can come up with a way to pay for it. 

Foxx said after the vote that the plan is only worthwhile if lawmakers back it up it with funding, noting that lawmakers approved a similar plan last year that went nowhere. 

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"The [Senate Enviroment and Public Works] committee advanced the ball today toward policy and funding goals that the administration put forth in the GROW AMERICA Act, but there is still much work to be done to address several important policy issues and to bring funding to a level that will adequately address maintenance backlogs and needed expansion," Foxx said in a statement. 

"We saw some of these critical issues raised as amendments to today’s bill," Foxx continued. "Unlike last year, when progress stopped at this point, I hope that the EPW committee’s work this week is just the beginning — not the end — of actions by Congress to address America’s critical transportation issues and bring funding in line with our country’s needs." 

The federal government's transportation spending is typically funded by a combination of the gas tax and transfers from other areas of the budget. 

Lawmakers face a July 31 deadline for the expiration of the current infrastructure measure but are deadlocked on how to pay for an extension. 

They have been grappling for the better part of a decade with a gap in transportation funding that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year.

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 1930s. But it has not been increased since 1993, and improvements in auto 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 annually. 

Congress has not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion in addition to the gas tax revenue to close the gap long enough to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill, such as the measure in the Senate.  

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. If lawmakers cannot come up with a way to pay for the long-term transportation bill by the end of July, they will likely have to settle for another short-term patch. 

Foxx and other transportation advocates have complained that temporary extensions prevent state and local governments from completing badly needed long-term infrastructure projects.  

"If we want to lead the world in doing business and quality of life, we need an aggressive change of course in both transportation policy and in resources invested," Foxx said after Wednesday's vote. 

The Obama administration has proposed a $478 billion transportation bill that it says would cover six years worth of infrastructure projects. The administration has proposed paying for the measure by taxing corporate profits that are stored overseas through a process that is known as "repatriation." 

Republicans have said they are open to the repatriation idea, but they have questioned the Obama administration's plan to institute a 14-percent tax rate and make the payments mandatory instead of voluntary. 

The sponsors of the spending plan that was approved by the Senate committee on Tuesday have said they are deferring to appropriators in the chamber to work out the details of the financing.  

The measure recommends spending $42.9 billion per year on the Federal-Aid Highway Program.

The plan also includes $675 million per year for the popular Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, which allows states to apply for federally backed, low-interest loans to help pay for large construction programs. 

The measure also includes approximately $240 million per year for the National Park Service and about $1.3 billion per year for federal lands and tribal transportation programs.