Senate bill would restore Highway Trust Fund

| 7/21/2009

A U.S. Senate bill would restore $26.8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund and keep the fund from going broke sometime in August.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced S1474 to restore foregone interest payments to the Highway Trust Fund as well as money that has been diverted for disaster relief.

“We are faced with the difficult question of how to beat the clock and restore the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund to avoid stalled infrastructure projects, job losses and an unsafe highway system,” Baucus said in a statement. “This proposal represents a clear way to address the projected shortfalls we face.”

Baucus and Senate co-sponsors Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, and Robert Menendez, D-NJ, said the Highway Trust Fund is entitled to $19.5 billion in interest. Of that, approximately $14.7 billion would be restored to the Highway Account and $4.8 billion would be directed to the Mass Transit Account.

The lawmakers also want to restore $7.3 billion to the Highway Trust Fund that was diverted for disaster relief from 1989 to 2004.

In total, $22 billion would go toward highways and $4.8 billion would be marked for mass transit.

In September 2008, when the Highway Trust Fund faced a similar shortfall, Congress and then President Bush restored $8 billion from previously diverted funds to keep the Highway Account afloat. Baucus was involved in getting that restoration passed.

Highway funding has joined health care and the economy among the top priorities on Capitol Hill in recent weeks.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee floated a $450 billion transportation authorization bill in late June that would consolidate transportation programs and restore a strong federal role for the next six years. The bill would replace the current transportation program known as SAFETEA-LU, which is set to expire Sept. 30.

Senate committees, including Environment and Public Works, say their version of the House plan will take time and an interim 18-month extension of SAFETEA-LU is needed to tide Congress over until 2011.

The White House favors the Senate 18-month proposal. House and Senate lawmakers continue to push ahead on the separate proposals. The Baucus plan would fund the Highway Trust Fund at least through the estimated 2011 deadline for the full Senate to pass a long-term authorization bill.

– By David Tanner, staff writer