by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she supports a transportation funding stopgap being considered by the Senate that would cover infrastructure needs until after the midterm elections.
Boxer has pushed for a more extensive six-year transportation bill that would spend about $265 billion on U.S. roads and transit systems, but she said the temporary proposal is better than allowing funding to run out completely this summer.
“I support the Senate Finance Committee’s plan to mark up legislation tomorrow that will keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through the critical construction season,” Boxer said in a news conference. “Their action is now necessary to stave off disaster, and I urge my Republican friends on the Finance Committee to join the Democrats to save the Highway Trust Fund.”
The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said earlier this week that he was planning to mark up a three-month, $9 billion bill that would extend transportation funding until the end of the year.
The current transportation bill is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30. Further complicating the deadline facing lawmakers, the transportation department has said that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August if Congress does not act to prevent it.
“The Highway Trust Fund must be saved,” Boxer said. “It provides predictable, multiyear funding to states so they can plan and construct long-term highway, bridge, and transit projects. Nationwide there are 70,000 bridges that are structurally deficient, and 50 percent of our nation’s roads are in less than good condition.”
The traditional source of funding for the nation’s transportation projects has long been the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents per gallon.
However, infrastructure expenses have outpaced revenue from the tax by about $16 billion annually in recent years as cars have become more fuel efficient and overall driving among U.S. residents has decreased.
The gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, currently brings in about $34 billion per year. The current transportation bill that is scheduled to expire in September includes approximately $50 billion in infrastructure funding, which is the level of spending that transportation advocates are trying to maintain.
Boxer has deferred the decision on paying for the transportation bill to Wyden’s Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the funding sources for the package.
She said Wednesday that the upper chamber has done a lot more to move the transportation funding package than the House has thus far.
“Sen. [David] Vitter [(R-La.)] and I came together to support a six-year reauthorization bill,” she said. “The Senate Banking and Commerce committees are also working hard on their portions of the surface transportation reauthorization bill, and the House must act as well.
“There is no time to waste,” Boxer added. “The House has done nothing thus far to mark up any legislation to save the Trust Fund.”