House passes short-term highway extension as Dems offer up six-year bill

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a two-month, temporary extension of current transportation funding and programs that will last through July 31. The House approved HR2353 by a vote of 387-35 on Tuesday, May 19. It now moves on to the Senate for consideration. As that was happening, House Democrats were filing a six-year transportation bill called the GROW AMERICA Act.

A May 31 deadline to keep transportation programs and funding afloat pushed lawmakers to pass the short-term extension offered by 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.

Shuster is one of many lawmakers calling for a longer-term bill while also acknowledging the current realities – that funding options are hard to come by in Congress these days.

“The American people want a long-term transportation bill, our businesses want it, and I am confident that there’s a strong will in Congress to get it done,” Shuster stated on his website.

“This measure simply allows us to continue funding our surface programs through the end of July, while our work continues on a fiscally responsible solution to closing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund and providing the long-term certainty required to make the investments that will strengthen and repair our roads and bridges.”

A surface transportation authorization 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. The entire debate about long-term funding lies with filling the funding gap.

One idea for a long-term bill, and one that would go well beyond $50 billion a year for transportation, is the GROW AMERICA Act offered up earlier this year by President Obama and officially introduced in Congress on Tuesday by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., as a courtesy to the president. DeFazio is the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Congress cannot continue to ignore the serious need for a long-term surface transportation reauthorization and continue to devolve federal responsibility by default,” DeFazio said in a statement.

GROW AMERICA stands for Generating Renewal, Opportunity, and Work with Accelerated Mobility, Efficiency, and Rebuilding of Infrastructure and Communities throughout America.

The six-year, $478 billion proposal contains language on tolling, tax reforms, federal grants and a retooling of the Highway Trust Fund to become the Transportation Trust Fund – complete with freight and multimodal elements. See the May issue of Land Line Magazine to learn more about the GROW AMERICA Act including provisions about commercial driver compensation, technology and motor carrier safety proposals.

See related stories:
Congress set to pass short-term highway extension
Tax reform, trust funds and tolls are options in White House highway bill

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