Friday, March 9, 2012

Highway Trust Fund Legislation Stumbles Again

Hopes for passage of any long term Highway Trust Fund reauthorization legislation faded further this week as the Senate stumbled and fumbled action on its $41.6 billion per year, two year version of the measure. Current Trust Fund taxing and spending authority expires March 31, 2012, when the eighth band aid short term extension provision expires. The House version of the long term reauthorization bill, proposing $34.6 billion/year for five years, fell apart completely amid political warfare over its details and never came to a floor vote.

March 6 the Senate failed to vote cloture on its version of the bill, amid Republican desires to continue attaching amendments respecting non-germane issues like birth control insurance coverage, the Keystone XL pipeline environmental review, airborne emission controls on operating boilers, and offshore oil drilling. So far those Senate amendments have all failed, but the interminable Senate debate continues on every sort of proposed amendment any Senator hopes to attach to one of the few “must pass” bills of this session.

With $110 million per day in motor fuel tax revenues hanging in the balance, it seems likely another band aid temporary extension is in the offing until Congressional leaders put an end to their interminable deadlock over unrelated legislative initiatives. Meanwhile, unemployment in the construction industry remains at 17.7%, with no construction job promoting legislative relief in sight. The Congressional Budget Office estimates failure of a long term reauthorization with new revenue sources will bankrupt the Trust Fund near the end of this fiscal year.

According to California Senator Barbara Boxer, 1.8 million existing construction jobs and 1.0 million new construction jobs hang in the balance, while Congress twiddles its thumbs.

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