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6-27-2014 Federal Transportation Briefing

Highway Trust Fund
The Senate Finance Committee took a step this week toward keeping the Highway Trust Fund solvent.  At a meeting on Thursday, the group discussed a proposal by committee chairman Ron Wyden (along with several amendments); and a counter-proposal by ranking member Orrin Hatch.

According to statements and summaries, Senator Wyden’s latest draft provides an $8.4 billion bailout from the general fund using: a transfer from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) fund ($750 million); plus certain tax compliance measures implemented over a 10-year period ($7.6 billion).  The 53 amendments offered include: raising the federal gas tax by 12 cents per gallon over three years; raising the barge tax to 29 cents per gallon to increase revenue to the Inland Waterway Trust Fund; exempting emergency infrastructure repairs from certain environmental regulations; and allowing states to opt out of the federal transportation program.

An earlier draft by Wyden would have increased the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, but this pay-for was dropped in the modified version presented at the meeting Thursday afternoon, and the planned vote was delayed to allow consideration of alternative proposals and amendments. 

Senator Hatch’s proposal would reportedly provide a bailout totaling more than $9 billion from the general fund based on: a transfer from the LUST fund ($1 billion); paying for non-construction costs from the general fund rather than the Highway Trust Fund ($840 million); plus ten years of revenue from expanded oil and gas exploration ($3.2 billion) and from various tax measures ($4.3 billion).

Efforts to find common ground will continue during the week-long 4th of July recess, and Senator Wyden intends to reconvene the committee “early in the week of July 7.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it will take about $8 billion to keep the trust fund solvent through Dec. 31, 2014, assuming a short-term extension of MAP-21 beyond the end of the current fiscal year. (So far, neither draft has been described as including an extension.)  Despite the introduction of various bills to increase revenue into the trust fund, CBO estimates that even hiking the federal gas tax by 6 cents per gallon would raise only $4 billion between now and the end of the fiscal year.

A letter from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to state DOT directors last week warned that well before the end of July the Highway Trust Fund is expected to dip below “a critical threshold” that will trigger delayed reimbursements to states. 
Funding/authorization expiration dates:
Sept. 30, 2014 – transportation appropriations (HR 3547, T-HUD)
Sept. 30, 2019 - water resource and development programs (WRRDA of 2014)
Sept. 30, 2013 - passenger rail and freight safety programs (PRIIA of 2008)
Sept. 30, 2014 - surface transportation programs (MAP-21)
Sept. 30, 2015 - aviation programs (Air Transportation Modernization & Safety Improvement Act, 2012)

Read entire article:  6-27-2014 Federal Briefing