Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Sizzles – Congressional Highway Funding Fizzles

            Facing a July 31 deadline for the expiration of Federal Highway Trust Fund appropriations, only one of the five key Congressional committees charged with legislating U. S. surface transportation policy seems capable of any action during this session. Senate Environment and Public Works Chair James Inhofe (R-Ok) and Ranking Member Barbra Boxer (D-Cal) have agreed on and passed out of their committee the DRIVE [Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy] Act, which proposes a six year, $350 billion surface transportation appropriation, and the Senate Banking Committee, in charge of transit construction appropriations, and the Senate Commerce Committee, in charge of rail and bus appropriations, are expected to add on as much $90 billion more to the dream pot of gold.

            The problems, however, are in the Senate Finance Committee, which will refuse to increase motor fuel taxes to bring sufficient Highway Trust Fund revenue to fund this ambitious package, and in the House Ways and Means Committee, where Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wi) refuses to consider a motor fuel tax increase, and offers no alternative sources of revenue.

            Congress has already pumped $62 billion in general revenue into the Highway Trust Fund to make up for money lost to CAFÉ’s increasing fuel mileage requirements for cars and trucks, to hybrid and electric vehicles, and to the fact that general economic woes have cut into everyone’s miles driven per year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates another $11 billion in general revenues will be needed next year just to keep federal surface transportation funds flowing to the states at current levels. Look for the 35th successive band aid, short term legislative fix to push this issue out beyond the next federal electioin cycle.

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