Feds applaud House passage of $305B highway bill

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx applauded lawmakers in the the House for approving a five-year, $305 billion highway bill on Thursday, clearing the way for a potential Senate vote to end a string of temporary road funding patches that has lasted for a decade. 

The 1,300-page bill, which calls for spending approximately $205 billion on highways and $48 billion on transit projects over the next five years, was approved by the House on a 359–65 vote. 

The measure, paid for with gas tax revenue and a package of $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget, also reauthorizes the controversial Export-Import Bank’s expired charter until 2019. 

{mosads}Foxx said after the vote that the multiyear highway funding bill is long overdue. 

“After 36 extensions, hundreds of congressional meetings, two bus tours, visits to 43 states, and so much uncertainty, it has been a long and bumpy ride to a long-term transportation bill,” he said in a statement. “It’s not perfect, and there is still more left to do, but it reflects a bipartisan compromise I always knew was possible.”

The transportation bill will end a stretch of temporary infrastructure funding patches that has lasted for a decade, if is approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama as expected later on Thursday. Lawmakers have not passed a transportation funding bill that lasted longer than two years since 2005, much to the chagrin of infrastructure advocates in Washington.

The new measure, dubbed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act, formally reauthorizes the collection of the 18.4 cents per gallon gas tax that is typically used to pay for transportation projects, and also includes $70 billion in “pay-fors” to close a $16 billion deficit in annual transportation funding that has developed as U.S. cars have become more fuel-efficient. 

The gas tax has been the traditional source for transportation funding since its inception in the 1930s, but lawmakers have resisted increasing the amount that drivers pay. The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects; the gas tax only brings in $34 billion annually. 

Congress has been struggling for years to come up with a way to pay for a long-term transportation funding extension without raising the gas tax. The offsets in the agreement that was announced on Tuesday include changes to custom fees and passport rules for applicants who have delinquent taxes. 

Additional mechanisms include contracting out some tax collection services to private companies — over the objection of unions that represent federal IRS workers — and tapping dividends from the Federal Reserve Bank. 

Tags Anthony Foxx FAST Act Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act Highway bill Highway Trust Fund MAP-21 Reauthorization
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