The Senate Finance Committee will meet June 26 to work through 46 amendments to Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) proposal to preserve federal highway and public transportation investment through December. Wyden unveiled his plan yesterday to generate $9 billion to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) through a variety of tax code changes unrelated to transportation and a provision that would replace the $550 Heavy Vehicle Use Tax cap for vehicles in excess of 75,000 pounds with a $1,100 cap for vehicles over 97,000 pounds. Doubling the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax is one of the proposals from the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, which the Senate Finance Committee created in the 2005 highway/transit reauthorization law.
Chairman Wyden and Committee Ranking Republican Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) both said today they are continuing to talk to try to forge a bipartisan path forward. If they are unable to do so, Republicans have filed amendments that would be alternatives to Wyden’s plan. Among the GOP proposals: utilizing revenues from fees on energy exploration in Alaska and off the U.S. coastline (a proposal from Republicans in 2011 and 2012 that was not approved in either the House or Senate), cutting spending in a variety of programs outside the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee and tax code changes unrelated to transportation (but different than Wyden’s proposal). It appears Republican senators may also attempt to replace Wyden’s proposal to increase the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax. Republicans filed several amendments that would shift Federal Highway Administration administrative expenses and the federal research and education funding out of the HTF and make them eligible for federal General Funds through the annual appropriations process.
It should be noted that two senators filed amendments to increase the federal motor fuels tax, but it is unclear if they will be offered for a vote during the Committee’s session. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) has a proposal to increase the gasoline and diesel taxes by 12 cents over the next three years (in 4 cents per gallon increments) and then permanently link the taxes to inflation. Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) filed an amendment to permanently index the motor fuels tax to inflation—Enzi submitted a similar amendment during the 2012 Finance Committee session that produced the revenue title for MAP-21, but did not ask for a vote on that proposal.
The ARTBA co-chaired Transportation Construction Coalition joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-led Americans for Transportation Mobility Coalition in a June 25 letter urging all Finance Committee members to work to develop a bipartisan plan to preserve federal highway and transit investment while they are developing a permanent solution to stabilize the HTF later this year