By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor
House and Senate leaders say they’ve struck a deal that would extend surface transportation programs and funding for six months. The bill would also extend federal fuel taxes and other user fees that make up the Highway Trust Fund through March 30, 2012.
Congressional leaders reached the agreement during a conference period Friday evening, Sept. 9. The conference agreed to extend programs by six months rather than the four-month proposal that advanced out of a Senate committee the previous day.
Procedurally, Congress must pass the bill by Friday, Sept. 16, because included in the provisions is an extension of Federal Aviation Administration programs that are set to expire on that date.
“It will have to pass by a two-thirds majority in the House and then it would go over to the Senate,” OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley said. “This does need to get to the president’s desk and be signed by him before the end of the day on Friday, or the FAA will shut down again.”
The surface transportation portion of the bill is a clean extension of SAFETEA-LU, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, which first took effect in August 2005. SAFETEA-LU technically expired in September 2009, but Congress has temporarily extended its provisions seven times. This will be the eighth.
The bill now before the House includes extensions to motor carrier safety grants, new-entrant audits, the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee and hazmat research, as per the status quo. It extends the authority of the Highway Trust Fund, including the fuel tax, tire taxes, excise taxes on heavy equipment, and the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax through March 31, 2012.
Surface transportation has avoided shutdowns during those two years, but aviation hasn’t been so lucky. FAA provisions expired in late July and were shut down for two weeks before Congress moved a six-week extension lasting through Sept. 16.
Once the temporary extension is in place, House and Senate leaders will turn their attention to a longer-term transportation bill. So far, the working document in the Senate calls for two more years at current levels while the working House version calls for six years at a reduced spending rate.
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