Our hats are off to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), US Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and EPW Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for their leadership and bipartisan work on the much-needed long term (6-year) extension of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization (highway bill) that funds the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF is a dedicated source of federal funding for highways. It is the primary funding source for federal highways and transit programs for state, local, and national projects across the U.S. The Senate adopted HR 22, the long-term highway bill by a vote of 65-34.
However, a disagreement over funding transportation infrastructure exists between House and Senate leadership. Prior to leaving for the August district work period the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a short term, 3-month extension of the highway bill, HR 3236. In order to match the length of the House-adopted highway bill the Senate also adopted HR 3236 by a vote of 91-4.
This impasse makes it certain that long term transportation funding will be a part of upcoming budget negotiations between House and Senate Republicans and Democrats and the White House. Additional funding (“pay-fors”) will be needed for the 6-year reauthorization of highway and transit programs. About $45 billion is offered in the package of offsets. That is enough to fund the up to three years of shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund. Funding from the Highway Trust Fund totals $39.6 billion in fiscal 2016, with annual levels increasing to $45.7 billion in fiscal 2021.
The highway reauthorization legislation must be completed prior to October 29.