By Dean Franks, senior vice president of congressional relations, ARTBA

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote the week of June 29 on a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, about one third of which is a five-year surface transportation reauthorization.  

The $494 billion highway and transit portion of H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, would be paid for in part with a transfer of $145 billion to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The transfer would cover the shortfall between anticipated HTF user fee receipts and proposed spending in the measure passed June 18 by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. (See ARTBA’s analysis.)

Other infrastructure-related provisions of The Moving Forward Act include:  

  • $10 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to partially address the backlog of authorized port, waterway, and marine transportation projects;  
  • $65 billion in project financing for clean water and drinking water infrastructure;
  • $17.5 billion for airports, the vast majority of which would be allocated for capital construction projects;
  • $140 billion for school and childcare center construction and rehabilitation;
  • $100 billion to build and repair public housing;
  • $100 billion for broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas;
  • $70 billion for electric grid modernization; and
  • $30 billion for hospital construction.  

The package contains several tax and financing provisions, including an increase in the cap for surface transportation Private Activity Bonds, a popular tool for public-private partnerships. The legislation also restarts the Build America Bonds program, an Obama-era financing tool that allows for the sale of tax-exempt bonds by states to be used for infrastructure construction.   

The House may consider as many as 300 amendments that have been filed to the measure. The legislation is expected to pass on a party-line vote. House Republicans were largely shut out of the bill drafting process.    

The decision by House Democrats to use general revenues to fill the gap in the HTF is the first public offer in the pay-for debate that has been happening privately since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. Since the transfer is not offset by other tax increases or spending cuts, the formal position of the House Democrats is to add $145 billion to the deficit to cover the spending gap.

If the House package is approved, as expected, then attention will shift to the Senate and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last July approved the highway policy portion of a new surface transportation reauthorization measure.  However, work on the legislation has stalled ever since. The Senate Finance, Banking, and Commerce committees each have jurisdiction over funding, transit, safety, and trucking titles, which have yet to be introduced. McConnell has indicated he wants to make the surface transportation reauthorization the Senate’s answer to the House’s larger infrastructure package.

Unlike the House, McConnell and Senate Republicans have not indicated how they would pay for their bill. To attain the necessary 60 votes to pass through the chamber, a bipartisan agreement on both highway and transit policy, as well as HTF revenues, will be required.

ARTBA will continue working with both parties to ensure a long-term highway and public transportation bill is enacted prior to the Sept. 30 expiration of the current surface transportation law.