The deadline to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from becoming insolvent is rapidly approaching, leaving Congress and the Administration with just months to identify a solution. But will they be up to the task? The stakes for Congress couldn’t be higher, with a failure to act putting hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk and bringing thousands of construction projects, including Safe Routes to School projects, across the nation to a grinding halt.
Given this reality, the MAP-21 transportation bill reauthorization dominated much of last week’s news cycle in Washington D.C. Here’s a snapshot of where things stand:
President Obama gave a speech in St. Paul, Minnesota, outlining the Administration’s plans for a four-year reauthorization of our nation’s surface transportation programs. While more details will be revealed in the White House’s FY 2015 budget, due to be released this week, the President provided a rough outline of what we can expect to see from the Administration. Of note, his plan would shore up the anemic Highway Trust Fund – the primary revenue source for federal highway and transit programs – with $150 billion from corporate tax reform, and would make significant boosts in spending for highway and transit programs.
On Capitol Hill, Senator Boxer, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Congressman Shuster, Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, revealed that they hope to have a bill marked up in the Senate by the end of April and in the House by late spring or early summer, putting both chambers on roughly the same timeline. With the Highway Trust Fund expected to run out of cash by mid-August, both chambers will have just months to finalize a bill or to come up with a short-term solution to backfill the trust fund.
Highway Trust Fund Woes
One thing is clear: increasing the federal gasoline tax – which hasn’t been touched since 1993 – to replenish the Highway Trust Fund has no place at the table.
While a broad coalition of groups, from the American Trucking Association to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have pointed to an increase in the gas tax as a solution to keep the trust fund solvent, leaders in the Senate, House, and the Administration have so far firmly rejected this option, looking instead at tax reform as a possible funding solution.
On the same day President Obama announced the Administration’s plans for reauthorization, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp (R-MI) put forward his long awaited tax reform package. Like the President’s proposal, this legislation would keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through reforms to our corporate tax structure. However, this plan is not without its detractors. Former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) and former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood both expressed doubt that Congress can move on tax reform and surface transportation reauthorization before the midterm congressional elections in November, meaning a short-term solution may need to be identified, and quickly.
The next few months will determine whether Congress and the Administration can come together on a long-term transportation solution, or will need to scramble to keep funding flowing in the short run. We will be hard at work to influence the policy discussion to ensure that federal transportation policy is supportive of Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking.
Matthew Colvin is the Safe Routes Partnership’s new Federal Policy Manager. He will be working closely with Deputy Director Margo Pedroso to advocate for Safe Routes to School, bicycling and walking on Capitol Hill.