House committee makes $375 billion transportation funding proposal

Increased funding for highways and transit projects could be set if the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s funding proposal is enacted. Announced Thursday, the committee’s proposal to reauthorize the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century includes a request for $375 billion in highway and transit spending over the next six fiscal years.

“The bipartisan leadership of the committee has developed a bold and innovative initiative that, if enacted, will reduce congestion, improve safety and enhance air quality,” said Stephen Sanderr, chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of America.

If the committee’s proposal were accepted, it would affect the venues through which the highway fund collects revenue. The proposal includes mechanisms for closing tax loopholes, restoring interest payments to the fund, reimbursing the fund for a 5.2-cent ethanol subsidy and increasing gas tax collections. Another part of the reauthorization proposal includes indexing the federal gas tax to the Consumer Price Index, which would result in an almost 2-cent-per-gallon tax increase on fuel.

Transportation funding has been a hot topic in the capitol this year. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Conditions and Performance Report for 2002, at least $91 billion a year is needed to maintain highway and transit programs and $107 billion annually would be needed to make any improvements to the system. Committee leaders want to increase the 2004 funding level above 2003’s $31.6 billion for highways to $40 billion. In contrast, President Bush’s FY 2004 proposal included a $29.3 billion request for transportation.

TEA-21 will expire Sept. 30. If approved, the committee’s funding suggestions would set funding amounts starting Oct. 1. According to Brian Deery, senior director of congressional relations for AGC, the House and Senate have suggested a budget of $32.1 billion for highways in FY 2004. Through the transportation and infrastructure committee’s proposal, he hopes that number will increase before final approval.