WASHINGTON — Congress has three more weeks to reach an agreement on a long-term highway funding bill, after President Obama signed a short-term patch late last week. Now November 20 is the new deadline for securing infrastructure funding, with a six-year, $325-billion bill currently under consideration the best hope for a long-term solution.
The only problem is that several House panels and the Senate need to sign off on the bill first, and full funding is not yet secured.
Congress has not passed federal infrastructure funding that lasts for more than two-year intervals since 2005, reported The Hill. In October, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee approved the Transportation Reauthorization & Reform Act of 2015, which directs $261 billion in spending for highway projects, $55 billion for transit and about $9 billion for safety programs over six years.
The House Rules Committee is taking up the bill this Monday, meaning there could be a floor vote this week.
Legislators have only figured out how to pay for the first three years, however. The new Speaker of the House, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has already said that increasing in the federal gasoline tax, which has not been raised since 1993 and only supports about two-thirds of funding for transportation projects, is not going to be an option. The tax currently sits at 18.4 cents per gallon (CPG).
“I want to make very clear: I’m against raising the gas tax,” said Ryan earlier this year in a hearing on transportation funding, according to The Hill. “There’s not much happening in this economy to help it grow, but lower gas prices is one of them. …. It would be downright unfair to take that away from them. So we are not raising gas taxes—plain and simple.”
Instead, Ryan supports the idea of repatriation—giving corporations a tax break on profits currently kept overseas—to help pay for infrastructure.
But some Democrats have argued that an increase in the federal gas tax is the only sensible way to make up for the shortfall.
“The bill under consideration calls for a six-year period of spending authority, and hopes to be funded for three years with a combination of budget gimmicks and tax code smoke and mirrors over the next decade,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who introduced an amendment to raise the federal gas tax by 15 CPG. “But Congress will be back to square one when that money runs out, facing an even bigger hole in the Highway Trust Fund—and once again throwing hundreds of thousands of jobs into uncertainty.”