House Passes Short-term Highway Trust Fund Fix, Transportation Leaders Await Senate Action

AASHTO Journal, 18 July 2014

The House of Representatives this week passed a roughly $11 billion short-term Highway Trust Fund bill that would fund the account through May 2015. The measure, which also extends highway, transit, and highway safety program reauthorization through the end of next May, had last week passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee and on Tuesday passed the House by a vote of 367-55.

House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-MI) spoke on the House floor before the vote, expressing his desire to get the measure passed and focus on a long-term solution for the HTF.

“A long-term solution would be my preference, and an important feature of my tax reform discussion draft would provide enough revenue to maintain the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund for eight years. In the meantime, I hope all Members of Congress can work on a longer-term solution by the end of May next year,” Camp said. “It is time to act now. State transportation departments have already started delaying or stopping certain highway projects to prepare for the fact that funding may fall short. Americans across the country deserve to see less gridlock on the roads and from their elected Representatives. These policies are straightforward, and have a history of bipartisan, bicameral support.”

While the House was working on its bill last week, the Senate Finance Committee passed its own $10.8 billion short-term HTF fix (see related AASHTO Journal story here). It is not yet clear when the Senate will have a full chamber vote on any of the HTF proposals from its members, though various news outlets (including this piece from the Wall Street Journal) are reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) could take up the House’s measure next week. However, when the Senate does take up the House measure it will likely consider several amendments proposed by members. These include a possible amendment by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to strike the House HTF funding package and replace it with the package approved by the Senate Finance Committee last week. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is also likely to offer an amendment to limit the duration of the extension to the end of December as opposed to the end of next May.

Additionally, the Office of Management and Budget released a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) in support of the House measure and President Obama expressed support for a short-term HTF fix.

“The President supports the steps that Congress is taking in the short-term to avoid a lapse in the Highway Trust Fund, and he will continue to push for long-term solutions for our nation’s infrastructure and the American economy,” according to a statement from the White House. That statement also addresses a new initiative by the President to encourage additional public-private partnerships in transportation projects (see related AASHTO Journal story here).

Still, leaders in transportation and many other industries are continuing to sound the alarm on the HTF. On Monday, a group of 62 organizations, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, sent a letter to Congress to advocate for action on the HTF.

“Shortchanging the Highway Trust Fund is not the path to future economic growth, jobs and increased competitiveness. The possibility of a deficient Highway Trust Fund that shutters 100,000 construction projects that support 700,000 jobs and puts all new highway, bridge and public transportation investments on hold will further harm an already fragile economy,” according to the letter. “The U.S. economy requires a surface transportation infrastructure network that can keep pace with growing demands. A long-term federal commitment to prioritize and invest in our aging infrastructure and safety needs is essential to achieve this goal. Keeping the Highway Trust Fund solvent is the first step.”

All this news comes as USDOT released its latest numbers for the Highway Trust Fund. As of June 27, the Highway Account of the fund stood at $6.5 billion, down from $8.1 billion last month. USDOT prefers to keep a minimum of $4 billion in the highway account in order to properly manage day-to-day financial transactions. At the end of the month, when the HTF is projected to drop below that $4 billion level, USDOT will exercise cash management strategies, such as limiting payment reimbursements to state DOTs (see related AASHTO Journal story here). USDOT’s Highway Trust Fund ticker is available here.

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