The U.S. Senate, in the early morning hours of May 23, approved legislation, H.R. 2353, that would extend the authority for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to spend funds from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) until July 31. The measure passed the House of Representatives May 19 and will now go to President Obama, who aides say will sign the legislation.
The 10 month extension of the programs Congress passed last July expires May 31 and the U.S. DOT says the HTF will face its sixth liquidity crisis in eight years at some point during August. The extension ensures Congress does not generate any new money for the HTF, but simply assures spending will continue up to the point of the latest revenue shortfall. As such, Congress will again be forced to revisit both the trust fund’s spending authority and revenue problems later this summer.
The House and Senate Tax Committees—which have jurisdiction over the HTF’s revenue stream—said they would have preferred an extension that lasted through the end of the calendar year. That course of action, however, would have required Congress to find $11 billion in offsetting revenues from somewhere to enable the trust fund to support current levels of highway and transit investment for the next seven months. Both House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said they were unable to reach an agreement with Democrats to generate those resources before the week-long congressional recess for the Memorial Day Holiday.
Hatch and Ryan have been clear they plan to use the next two months to find a path forward on another short-term extension, which they say is necessary to provide them additional time to work on a long-term HTF plan. Many Democrats in the House and Senate noted Congress has had 10 months since the last extension was put in place to find a trust fund solution. The Obama Administration added, “The Administration expects that the Congress will use this two-month extension to make meaningful and demonstrable progress towards a significant bill in 2015.”
ARTBA and the ARTBA co-chaired Transportation Construction Coalition are continuing to urge Congress to move beyond short-term extensions and HTF patches and fix the HTF once and for all to end eight years of uncertainty about future federal highway/transit investments.