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House: Highway Help on the Horizon

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

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Faced with an Oct. 29 deadline and with a long-term solution still just out of reach, Congress is expected to pass today (Oct. 27) its 35th short-term transportation funding authorization in just over three years.

Lawmakers are expected to approve a three-week extension of the authorization just two days prior to Thursday’s deadline, according to multiple media reports. Members of Congress had given themselves that deadline on July 30, when, as previously reported, they passed the 34th extension of the current surface transportation authorization known as MAP-21.

But this time, it’s different, say lawmakers. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a bipartisan bill last week that would give the nation its first long-term surface transportation bill since 2006, according to a Thursday (Oct. 22) article in The Hill.

STRR Act of 2015

The new measure, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRR Act), would spend $261 billion on highways; $55 billion on transit; and $9 billion on safety programs—for a total of up to $325 billion—over six years.

©iStock.com / ivanastar

The new measure, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (STRR Act), would spend up to $325 billion over six years.

Although the bill is similar to a six-year plan passed in July by the Senate and criticized by House Republicans because the bill did not include enough funding for all six years, it has an important catch: lawmakers must come up with the funding to “unlock” the last three years of the bill or the authorizations in those last three years become invalid, The Hill notes.

“The STRR Act is fiscally responsible and authorizes federal surface transportation programs for six years,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) before the bill was approved by the committee.

“This bill was developed with subcommittee Chairman [Sam] Graves [R-MO], ranking member [Peter] DeFazio [D-OR] and ranking member [Eleanor Holmes] Norton [D-DC], and includes input from both sides of the aisle and the stakeholder community,” said Shuster, according to The Hill. “I appreciate everyone’s efforts to get us to this point.”

However, lawmakers have said they need more time to take up the bill before the full House and negotiate with the Senate on any differences between the STRR Act and the bill Senators ratified in July, according to a Sunday (Oct. 25) article in The Wall Street Journal.

According to The Hill and previous reports, transportation advocates have complained for years that Congress has not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years since 2005. On July 30, lawmakers squeaked by an $8 million extension to ensure the Highway Trust Fund would be able to continue to provide necessary money for federal projects and state reimbursements.

Without it, the authorization passed May 29 would have expired on July 31. Even when the extension was approved in July, it gave the Highway Trust Fund what was expected to be only enough money to get through the end of this year. But in August, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) said the fund actually was more solvent than thought and could last longer.

Flat Spending

As The Hill notes, the bills in both chambers keep the current level of transportation spending at about $50 billion per year with adjustments for inflation. But Congress needs to come up with $16 billion of that as a supplement to the current gas tax.

©iStock.com / asterix0597

The bills in both the House and Senate keep the current level of transportation spending at about $50 billion per year but need an additional $16 billion in funding to achieve that.

House Democrats have advocated a higher gas tax or higher corporate taxes, and had wanted to see the level of spending increased in the new bill. The gas tax—which has been the traditional source of transportation funding—is currently 18.4 cents per gallon and brings in about $34 billion of the $50 billion the federal government spends on surface transportation, The Hill notes.

“America’s infrastructure is falling apart, and our country is falling behind our economic competitors,” said Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), who had introduced his own bill calling for a $170-billion injection of cash into the Highway Trust Fund from corporate tax reform. “We won’t be able to catch up if we simply keep our inadequate infrastructure investment on cruise control.

“If we continue with baseline funding, in another six years we’ll be in even worse shape.”

Delaney’s bill is one of several proposals throughout the year that failed to gain support in committee or from the full House, as previously reported. The Obama Administration had advocated a $478 billion GROW AMERICA plan, which was favored by the Department of Transportation. That plan called for a 45 percent increase in transportation spending to help modernize aging American infrastructure.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it will take about $100 billion in addition to the current revenue from the gas tax to fund the new bill for all six years.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Government; Government contracts; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Transportation

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