The U.S. Senate this week will consider legislation to avert the fifth Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue crisis since 2008. The Senate will start its action by bringing up the HTF bill approved two weeks ago by the House of Representatives, which would infuse the trust fund with $10.8 billion in new revenues to continue existing levels of highway and public transportation investment through May 2015. Four amendments are expected to be offered to the bill:
- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Republican Hatch (R-Utah) will seek to replace the revenue transfers included in the House bill with the transfers and revenue generating provisions approved by the Senate Finance Committee, which also raise $10.8 billion for the HTF;
- Senators Carper (D-Del.), Corker (R-Tenn.) and Boxer (D-Calif.) will attempt to reduce the funds raised by the measure to $8.1 billion and shorten the extension of the programs to December 19. Their intent is to encourage congressional action in the next five months on a long-term HTF revenue plan;
- Senator Lee (R-Utah) will try to reduce the federal gasoline tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon and the diesel tax from 24.4 cents per gallon to 5 cents per gallon. His proposal would dramatically reduce the federal role in supporting surface transportation improvement; and
- Senator Toomey (R-Pa.) will try to exempt all projects involving emergencies/natural disasters from federal environmental permitting requirements.
ARTBA has written all senators to emphasize that the top priority for any short-term HTF legislation is keeping the current levels of federal highway and transit funds flowing to the states. ARTBA prefers the Wyden-Hatch approach to the House measure because it does not exclusively rely on general fund transfers and raises $4 billion in new (non-transportation) revenues for the trust fund. The association also supports the Carper-Corker-Boxer attempt to keep Congress focused on the need for a long-term trust fund solution during 2014.
It is unclear at this time when the Senate will begin action on the HTF measure, but both the House and Senate are scheduled to take a five-week recess at the end of this week.