No Other Viable Transportation Options

put in a patch

Highway patch

Just hours before the U.S. Senate was set to adjourn for the long August congressional recess, on July 31, the U.S. Senate adopted H.R. 5021 to fund the nation’s highway system by a vote of 81-13.  H.R. 5021 is a short term, $11 billion “patch” for funding of the U.S. highway trust fund through May 2015.  The trust fund would have been insolvent at the beginning of August.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly adopted H.R. 5021 with a vote of 367-55 on July 15. While the measure garnered bi-partisan support, House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told CQ News, “Democrats would have a preferred a longer-term deal that shored up the highway trust fund’s solvency for years to come… and many Democrats accepted the deal because there were no other viable options.”  State transportation officials and transportation industry leaders have called for Congress to pass long-term legislation to ensure more certainty for highway improvement projects across the country.

Final passage was not certain in the U.S. Senate as some Senators wanted to consider other options.  The Senate Finance Committee developed a different plan from the House legislation. Both the House and Senate legislation rely on three provisions: 1. extending customs fees on importers that are set to expire, 2. using funds from another trust fund designated for leaking underground storage tanks, and 3. altering the rules for contributions to private pensions. However, the Senate Finance Committee proposal would have scaled back the pension provision and provided alternate revenues from a list of policies that were intended to bring about improved compliance with existing tax laws.  U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, (D-OR) wanted to replace the House bill (HR 5021) with his Committee’s plan.

The Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) would have liked the Senate to adopt a shorter, short-term resolution funding the highway trust fund through December of this year and allow Congress to return after the November general elections and adopt a longer term legislation.

Republican Senator Mike Lee (UT) had other plans. He wanted the Senate to vote on two amendments that would lessen the federal responsibility for funding the highway trust fund and place more responsibility on states.  Lee’s amendment would have reduced the gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon.  Lee’s other amendment would have repealed the Davis-Bacon Act that mandates how contractors are paid for public works projects.

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Tim Cansler