If there were a fairy godmother for Congress, the entire membership of the Senate and House would have been driving pumpkins since September 2003 - that's when the 1998 Highway Bill expired.
Unable to meet their deadline to resolve differences for what should have been the 2003 Highway Bill, the House and Senate extended the funding levels from the 1998 legislation. Then they gave themselves another extension, and another, and another.
Thursday, July 21, Congress approved a 10th extension. It is set to expire Wednesday, July 27.
Some observers on Capitol Hill predict this will be the last extension, citing a desire by Congressional leaders to have a final version of the Highway Bill before the five-week Congressional recess that begins Saturday, July 30.
Transportation Weekly reported that another extension would make it almost impossible to alter the funding levels for fiscal year 2005. It also would turn what was supposed to be a six-year funding measure into a four-year bill.
Basic funding levels have been among the main sticking points for the legislation. In particular, the allocation of Highway Trust Fund money has stalled the bill as states that contribute more to the fund than they receive have pushed for what they consider equity.
In addition to mainstream issues such as the trust fund, House and Senate negotiators on a conference committee have been trying to resolve a number of trucking-related measures. Those include:
- A pilot program that would increase truck parking;
- A unified registration system;
- Tolling provisions;
- Changes to regs that would address motor carriers that have a pattern of safety problems;
- Outreach and training for state inspectors to help them deal with foreign commercial motor vehicles;
- Possible changes in regs for diabetic commercial drivers; and
- A mandatory fuel surcharge with 100 percent pass-through to the person who actually buys the fuel.
- By Coral Beach, staff editor