Senate Finance identifies possible $9.6 billion for transportation

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/6/2012

Needing $13 billion to fill a funding gap in a long-term transportation bill, the Senate Finance Committee has identified a possible $9.6 billion so far. The committee plans to discuss its recommendations on Tuesday, Feb. 7, including the renewal of fuel taxes, tire taxes, the excise tax on heavy equipment and the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax.

The committee’s offering is part of a two-year surface transportation bill passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The urgency in getting a bill passed soon, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, is that without legislative action, the taxes that truckers and other highway users are used to paying are scheduled to expire on March 31.

Baucus released a set of recommendations from the committee for bringing more money into the Highway Trust Fund.

Right off the bat, the committee would renew highway use taxes, including the fuel tax, through Sept. 30, 2013.

Next, the recommendations include closing a loophole that currently allows paper manufacturers to claim an alternative fuel credit for a byproduct called black liquor. Eliminating the tax credit for black liquor would save nearly $2.8 billion for transportation according to the Finance Committee.

Another recommendation would dedicate “gas guzzler taxes” to the Highway Trust Fund. Current taxes on 6,000-pound passenger vehicles that fail to meet certain fuel-mileage standards go to fund the general Treasury. The Senate Finance recommendation would move that money, approximately $697 million per year, to the Highway Trust Fund.

The committee also recommends that passports be revoked for individuals who owe more than $50,000 in taxes. With an incentive for individuals to pay their overdue taxes to get their passports back, the committee recommends a portion of that money go to transportation.

The list of recommendations still lacks more than $3 billion of the estimated $13 billion needed to plug the gap. Baucus said in a statement that the committee is hoping to come up with more and announce the additions at Tuesday’s hearing.

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