Union pushes for long-term highway fix

Union pushes for long-term highway fix

The Laborers’ International Union of North America is urging Congress to pass a long-term extension of federal transportation funding that is set to expire at the end of the month instead of relying on a temporary patch to keep road funding flowing. 

Lawmakers are facing a July 31 deadline for the expiration of current infrastructure funding, and Republican leaders in both chambers have floated potential short- and long-term extensions to help pay for the nation's transportation projects. 

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said Friday that Congress should opt for a longer solution to the looming transportation funding cliff that has been floated by the Senate. 

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"It is encouraging that some senators are stepping forward to find a solution that will provide long-term sustainable investment. Too many lives are at stake, too many jobs are at risk and our nation’s place in the world is threatened without it," he said in a statement. 

"Partisan efforts by some in Congress to delay consideration of a long-term highway bill represents the kind of foot-dragging and political cowardice that disgusts voters," O'Sullivan continued.   

Lawmakers are scrambling to prevent an interruption to the nation's transportation spending at the end of the month, but consensus has been elusive on how the new round of spending should be paid for.  

The plan that has been floated by the Senate would take in roughly $80 billion in offsets, including a controversial plan to take $30 billion in savings from a federal employee retirement savings plan. 

The House, meanwhile, voted this week to approve an $8 billion extension that relies 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.

O'Sullivan said his members support the longer transportation funding option after a string of temporary infrastructure spending patches that has lasted for a decade. 

"Any worker who failed at their job as many times as Congress has, would be fired," he said. "After more than 30 extensions, it is time for our political leaders to reject political calculations and do their jobs and pass a long term Highway bill before going on vacation." 

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 Department of Transportation has warned that 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 cutback on payments to state and local governments

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.

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

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

Senators have toyed with the idea of including an extension of the controversial Export-Import Bank’s charter, which expired in June, in their version of the new highway bill. 

Republicans in the House have vocally opposed the idea of adding Ex-Im to the infrastructure legislation, setting up a standoff with two weeks to go before federal transportation funding runs out.