House panel proposes $10.5 billion stopgap for transportation; Sens. Boxer, Carper oppose plan


The House Ways and Means Committee has proposed a stopgap to fund transportation projects for eight months, but Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) are opposing the plan.

According to a report from The Hill, the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday proposed a $10.5 billion, eight-month funding bill that would extend transportation funding at current levels until May 31, 2015.

The proposal comes less than two months before the projected insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), the primary funding source for state and local transportation projects. The HTF is expected to run out of money at the end of August, and many lawmakers and transportation advocates are offering potential solutions to close the funding gap.

If a solution is not implemented by August 1, the DOT plans to slow and lower reimbursements to states to prevent draining the HTF.

The House Joint Committee on Taxation said the federal government’s general fund would pay for the majority of the bill, marking $7.7 billion marked for highways and $2 billion for public transportation system, according to The Hill. Another $1 billion would would come from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, which also funded the transportation bill approved in 2012.

Transportation funding under the proposed bill would be offset by revenue from changes to federal pension ($6.4 billion) as well as a fee travelers pay to use U.S. customs facilities ($3.5 billion).

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) noted that the plan “doesn’t provide as much funding as I would like – enough to get through the end of next year” but that it does give Congress more time to agree on a long-term solution.

Camp also pointed to a recent proposal from Sen. Ron Wyden that would extend funding through Dec. 31.

“Any effort that just goes to the end of this year will only lead to another backroom deal during the lame-duck session where only a very few members are present or have any say in the matter,” Camp said in the report.

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However, the committee’s efforts to extend funding for eight months is not good enough for Boxer and Carper, who are transportation leaders in the Senate.

The two senators released a statement Wednesday announcing their opposition to the House panel’s proposal.

“The House’s plan to kick the can down the road and pass a temporary patch for the Highway Trust Fund until next May derails the effort to pass a long-term transportation bill this year,” Boxer said in a prepared statement. “This ill-conceived proposal would prolong uncertainty for business, local governments and the states and would create another financial crisis right before the next construction season. Passing a long-term transportation bill this year would provide a real boost for our economic recovery. The American people have a right to expect no less.”

Carper also noted an immediate need for long-term funding.

“The House Republicans’ proposal to put off a long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund crisis until next spring is a flawed strategy that will further undermine the ability of states and cities to invest in transformative, large-scale transportation projects, hinder private sector job creation, and will likely continue a harmful cycle of short-term extensions indefinitely,” Carper said. “We know all that we need to know about the options for fixing the Highway Trust Fund and fulfilling our promise to states to be a partner in infrastructure investment. We’ve already been contemplating this problem for more than five years. Giving Congress another year will not reveal any new solutions, it’s only stalling and dodging the hard decisions that voters sent us to Congress to make.

“In the Finance Committee, Chairman Wyden and Ranking Member Hatch have been working hard on a bipartisan approach to fund our transportation system through the immediate need in this summer construction season and I urge them to finish that process to set the table for a meaningful long-term funding solution later this fall,” he added. “The time to act is in 2014 and any proposal that fails to do that should be a nonstarter.”

Carper and Boxer aren’t the only two concerned about the short-term proposal. Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) Vice President for Government and Industry Relations Nick Yaksich said in a prepared statement that AEM is glad to see the House working toward a solution. However, he noted disappointment in the proposed stopgap.

“We wish to voice our continued dismay toward Congress’s inability to rally around common-sense solutions to sustainably finance the trust fund for the long term,” Yaksich said. “Governing from deadline to deadline – from crisis to crisis – is no way to do business. While Chairman Camp’s initial proposal extends MAP-21 authority through the first half of 2015, Congress would be abdicating its responsibilities if it were to avoid taking up a long-term highway bill this Congress.”

According to another report from The Hill, the House is slated to vote on the proposal next week.