House passes temporary highway funding bill
By a vote of 367 to 55, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a stop-gap funding measure to ensure adequate funding for the Highway Trust Fund through next May. The measure provides nearly $11 billion for highway repair and transportation programs.
Instead of transferring money from the General Fund, as many had predicted, the House bill raises the funds by adjusting pension rules so companies contribute more in federal taxes than building up pension reserves, increasing customs user fees, and shifting about $1 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust (LUST) Fund.
Without congressional action, the Highway Trust Fund is projected to go into the red in a month and federal highway aid to states will be scaled back and metered based on available cash flow from motor fuel taxes, and excise taxes on trucking equipment. States have already begun to wait on starting new projects because of the funding uncertainty. The funding crisis is the culmination of growing demand to fix deteriorating roads and bridges, flat revenue due to more efficient vehicles that consume less gas, and inflation that has eroded the purchasing power of the fuel tax.
The 18.4-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and the 24.4-cent-per-gallon diesel tax have not been raised for 20 years.
Many lawmakers and transportation advocates would prefer to renew the existing surface transportation law, which expires at the end of September, and include a provision for some sort of new revenue stream to sustain the Highway Trust Fund for the long-term. But disagreements over raising the gasoline tax and the looming mid-term election have essentially punted the debate into next year. The House bill is seen as a temporary fix.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp remarked on the floor that the bill's three provisions have all been used in previous bills that received bipartisan support. Two of them — pension smoothing and LUST — are actually part of the MAP-21 highway transportation legislation, which soon expires.
"These are policies everyone is familiar with, they are policies that will provide the funding we need, and they are the only policies that will pass both the House and Senate in time to fund our highways after the end of this month," he said.
A similar bill highway funding bill was approved last week by the Senate Finance Committee and has yet to be voted on by the full Senate.
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