Congress set to pass short-term highway extension

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Monday, May 18, 2015

Faced with a May 31 deadline and a lack of long-term funding options, the U.S. House of Representatives is likely to pass a two-month extension to the current highway bill to last through July 31.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, filed HR2353, dubbed the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, on Friday, May 15.

A month ago, Ryan attempted to garner votes for a bill that would have extended transportation funding through the end of the year, but that effort did not get enough support.

A surface transportation bill, commonly referred to as a “highway bill,” provides funding and policies not just for highways, but for bridges, highway safety, transit, motor carrier safety and other programs funded out of the Highway Trust Fund. The trust fund is where fuel taxes and other federal transportation taxes and user fees have been collected since the Eisenhower era.

Federal transportation programs currently cost about $50 billion a year to administer, while revenue coming in to the Highway Trust Fund totals about $35 billion a year.

With the House bill on the table, the Senate would have to pass an identical measure, or offer their own and try to get House support, by the May 31 deadline. The House goes into recess starting Thursday, May 21, adding an exclamation point to the urgency.

The short-term extension is the latest, and possibly not the last, to extend the current highway bill known as MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. MAP-21 is, or was, a two-year bill passed in 2012 that “expired” on Sept. 30, 2014. Congress extended MAP-21 through May 31 of this year.

Many members of Congress are touting the need for a long-term bill, five or six years in length, to provide certainty to states to build and maintain infrastructure.

That conversation continues in committees such as Senate Environment and Public Works. The leaders of that committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., say they intend to mark up a six-year highway bill in June, but their bill will not contain a funding mechanism to fill the gap.

Other committees such as Senate Finance will have to add their pieces to the puzzle to get funding sorted out.

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