Congress Eyes Another Short-Term Patch on Transportation

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With the Highway Trust Fund running on empty, the House and Senate are expected to vote this week on a two-month extension of transportation programs.

The trust fund has a growing gap between spending and revenue, largely due to the fact that the motor fuels taxes — which fund the program — haven’t been adjusted for inflation since 1993. After lawmakers approved a short-term measure last August to buy more time to make long-term repairs, it’s disappointing that they have once again turned to another temporary patch instead of addressing the fund’s structural challenges.

Surface transportation programs and payments to the Highway Trust Fund from the Treasury’s general fund will expire on May 31. The trust fund, however, will still have enough money to keep making payments until late July.

If lawmakers fail to address the shortfall by then, Washington could not fully reimburse states for highway and transit projects, potentially delaying or cancelling thousands of them.

Some lawmakers in both parties object to once again kicking the can down the road. Several have written letters expressing disappointment with Congress’s inaction in recent months, saying they will only support a sustainably funded long-term bill.

A bipartisan group of congressmen introduced a promising plan last month that would index motor fuels taxes to inflation. The plan then would establish a commission to find an alternative funding source and — if the panel fails — would periodically raise motor fuels taxes to cover the remaining shortfall for the next decade.

External links:
House Preps Highway Extension as Deadline Looms (National Journal)
Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (CBO)
Revolt Brews Over Short-Term Highway Trust Fund Bill (Roll Call)
House Democrat Seeks to Block Future Highway Patches (The Hill)
Fixing the Highway Trust Fund (Concord)

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