The U.S. Senate is expected as early as today, July 23, to take up legislation (H.R. 5021) to stave off an impending shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund and to authorize spending beyond the current Sept. 30 expiration, and the American Trucking Assns. is pushing for a patch that ends in December in order to preserve the possibility of action later this year on a longer-term measure that provides more money for highway development.
Meanwhile, Anthony Foxx and 11 past secretaries of transportation on July 21 signed off on an open letter to Congress calling for a larger and longer-term investment in transportation than Congress has authorized in recent years. The letter appears to support H.R. 5021 as a necessary measure to keep the trust fund solvent, but it stresses that the “bill will not ‘fix’ America’s transportation system.” The letter to Congress came the same day that Foxx spoke to the National Press Club, arguing that the United States “can’t keep hitting the snooze button” on transportation.
As passed by the House, the bill would both fix the shortfall and extend spending authority through May 31, 2015. The Senate Finance Committee also adopted compromise legislation that matches the May 31 date, but the American Trucking Assns. on Wednesday said it backs efforts by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bob Corker (R-TN) and Thomas Carper (D-DE) to extend highway funding only until Dec. 19.
“ATA continues to seek an immediate solution to the impending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund,” said Bill Graves, president and CEO. “Moving from one funding crisis to another will force states to cancel or delay even more crucial highway projects, putting jobs and the economy at risk. The December deadline provides the cushion needed to avert near-term funding interruptions for states and provides ample time for lawmakers to resolve the long-term challenge facing the trust fund.”
Many Democrats as well as ATA believe that a December deadline almost certainly would require Congressional action following the November elections. Republicans expect to take control of the Senate in the next Congress, but during a “lame-duck” session following the mid-term elections the Democrats would still be in control and potentially with several defeated Democrats who no longer need to worry about reelection. An increase in the federal gasoline and diesel taxes as proposed by Corker and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) would have a greater chance than in 2015.
A deal in the Senate on the trust fund extension appeared close Tuesday night as Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he had been waiting on a compromise but could not locate one senator.