Monday, October 19, 2015

Surface Transportation House Markup Falls Far Short

Congress will undoubtedly come up with a short term patch to end the impending crisis when federal highway trust fund spending authority ends October 29. There is still no long term solution in sight, however, and both the Senate’s three year bill passed there July 30 and the House Transportation and Infrastructure version slated for markup today fall far short of the customary six year authorization legislation which would enable state and local governments to plan rationally for infrastructure maintenance, repair, replacement and growth. Gaping revenue shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund loom just over the horizon, and neither the House nor the Senate version contemplates funding beyond the next three years. Furthermore, both proposed measures are about $30 billion under the projected three year needs.

No Congressman or Senator up for reelection is willing to propose increased motor fuel taxes, and there is no viable source of alternative or supplemental revenue on the table to fill that gap, much less provide any dollars at all for years four, five and six. The House bill being marked up today provides for blocking all funding in 2019 through 2021 unless Ways and Means can come up with an additional $40 billion in those years.

The House committee markup bill allocates $261 billion for highway construction, $55 billion for public transit, and $9 billion for highway safety improvements over the six year authorization period totaling $325 billion. The Senate version passed earlier is $25 billion richer, for a total of $350 billion. Neither bill, however, comes the least bit close to indicating where all that cash will come from. So, next week’s punting of this problem into the 2016 legislative sessions will be followed by a “hail Mary” pass play which could fall halfway short of the goal line for America’s roads, bridges, rails and waterways.
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