Transportation

Advocates want longer highway fix than House patch

Transportation advocates are pushing for longer infrastructure funding measure than the $8 billion extension that was passed by the House on Wednesday. 

The House approved an $8 billion bill to extend federal transportation funding until December on Wednesday in an effort to prevent an interruption in the nation’s infrastructure spending at the end of the month. 

Transportation advocates criticized the lower chamber for failing to approve a longer extension of the highway spending, which is currently set to expire on July 31. 

{mosads}”It’s time to break the cycle of Congress passing extension after extension of our federal highway program,” Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) President Dennis Slater said in a statement after the vote. 

“This is no way of doing business, and both members of Congress and the equipment manufacturing industry know it,” Slater continued. “States have already canceled or deferred billions’ worth of infrastructure projects that would have created jobs and bolstered the economy.” 

Lawmakers are scrambling to prevent an interruption in the nation’s transportation spending with Wednesday’s vote because the Department of Transportation has said its Highway Trust Fund will dip below a mandatory critical level of $4 billion at the end of the month. The agency has said crossing that threshold will necessitate a cut-back on payments to state and local governments. 

Congress has been grappling since 2005 with a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year, and lawmakers have not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years during that span. 

The 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of transportation funding for decades, but the tax has not been increased since 1993 and more fuel-efficient cars have sapped its buying 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.

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

The patch that was approved by the House relies instead on $3 billion worth of savings from Transportation Security Administration fees and $5 billion in tax compliance measures to fund road projects through Dec. 18. 

The Senate, meanwhile, has worked on a longer, six-year, $275 billion transportation funding measure, but lawmakers in the upper chamber have not yet revealed how their legislation would be paid for.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill.

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the transportation funding gap in recent years, as they are again proposing to do now.  

Transportation advocates said the latest patch, the 34th such temporary fix since 2005, will make it harder for states to complete badly needed construction projects.  

“As the world’s largest manufacturing economy, with a crumbling infrastructure where bridges and roads continue to age and fail our expectations, the United States and its manufacturers deserve a network that will serve our 21st-century needs,” National Association of Manufacturers Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Policy Robyn Boerstling said. 

“With another short-term bandage in hand, Congress must now use this time in earnest and work every day of the next five months to pass a well-funded, multiyear surface transportation authorization by the end of the year to ensure our competitiveness and put Americans back to work,” Boerstling continued. 

Republican leaders in the House framed the stopgap measure as an attempt to buy time to negotiate a long-term highway bill.

“We don’t like patches more than anybody else does,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in the moments before the vote on Wednesday. “But this patch is necessary to make sure that [construction] projects don’t stop.”

Transportation advocates said they intend to hold lawmakers to their promise that the temporary patch will lead to an eventual long-term infrastructure funding measure. 

“We hope that this extension will give Congress enough time to roll up their sleeves and get down to work on a long-term bill with robust funding levels to adequately maintain and modernize our roads, bridges and transit systems. Anything less will not keep America competitive,” Building America’s Future President Marcia Hale said in a statement.

“This patch is heartening, but must lead to a robust, long-term bill,” she concluded.  

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

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