Update: Congress takes on transportation funding in 2004

| Thursday, January 08, 2004

When Congress reconvenes Jan. 20, there will be 24 legislative days to complete work on the reauthorization of federal highway, highway safety and transit programs before a temporary measure expires Feb. 29.

With the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century expiring Sept. 30, 2003, Congress enacted a five-month extension. During that time, highway and safety reauthorization bills were unveiled by both House and Senate committees, although details remained to be worked out.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in November marked up a $255 billion highway reauthorization bill (S. 1072) – the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003. However, funding has not yet been identified, nor has a state-by-state funding distribution been disclosed.

Committee Chairman Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, said he hoped the Senate would consider the legislation "as its first order of business," so that a bill can be sent to President George W. Bush as quickly as possible, according to press accounts.

Inhofe said he had received assurance from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-TN, that the bill would be brought before the full Senate in February.

House financing plan pending too

Meanwhile, The Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, proposed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in November, calls for a six-year $375 billion reauthorization.

Bill sponsors, including Chairman Don Young, R-AK, emphasized the importance of the bill to the nation's economic recovery, saying it is targeted to create 1.7 million jobs and sustain another 1.8 million through 2009.

In TEA-LU, highway funding would go from $182 billion under the current authorization, to $298 billion, and transit would increase from $41 billion to $69.2 billion.

The bill does not specify how the funds will be raised to pay for the transportation investments. However, it assumes a transfer of revenue from the 2.5-cent tax on ethanol from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund, and the repeal of the 5.2-cent tax exemption for fuel blends including ethanol.

The committee has also strongly supported enactment of a retroactive indexing of the motor fuel tax to provide needed revenue.

Chairman Young indicated he hoped to mark up the bill in February and to complete floor action by March 15.

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