Senate highway bill advances from Finance Committee

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Wednesday, February 08, 2012

One of the last pieces of the Senate’s highway bill is now in place as the Finance Committee approved its portion of the package on Tuesday, Feb. 7. Majority Leader Harry Reid is now testing the waters to get the bill in front of the full Senate for a vote.

Reid needs consent from 60 senators before the bill can be put up for a vote on the Senate floor.

The two-year, $109 billion transportation bill is more or less complete, with portions approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; Commerce Science and Transportation Committee and Finance Committee.

The Finance Committee approved its funding portion of the bill on Tuesday with a vote of 17-6. The finance provision would extend the Highway Trust Fund through 2015. The trust fund includes taxes that truckers and highway users pay including fuel taxes, tire taxes, heavy vehicle excise taxes and the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax known as HVUT or HUT.

The committee needed to find about $13 billion to plug a funding gap in the bill. Following Tuesday’s proceedings the committee had come up with about $10.5 billion.

Among the financial measures was a provision to transfer $3 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund to the Highway Trust Fund.

Some of the proposed transfers from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund drew fire from committee Republicans who criticized some of the 10-year provisions to pay for two years worth of transportation programs.

An amendment that would have indexed federal taxes on gasoline and diesel to inflation was withdrawn, but not before a handful of Democrats and Republicans agreed that increasing fuel taxes was way overdue.

One amendment that the Finance Committee adopted would change the way long-term highway leases, such as the 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway, would be taxed. Current law allows the private investor to depreciate the asset in just 15 years. The amendment offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, would extend the requirements for depreciation to 45 years, closer to the life of the asset.

OOIDA supported the Bingaman amendment because it reins in the power that private investors have when they sign long-term leases for public roadways.

As the transportation authorization process moves forward, the Senate bill is likely to clash with a five-year, $260 billion bill currently being considered in the House. For a new transportation authorization to become law, the two chambers must agree on a final version.

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