House Constructs Six-Year, $325 Billion Highway Bill – Vote today
Congress has until the end of October to get a bill in place or risk running out of money for funding improvements and maintenance on the nation’s infrastructure. To keep the money flowing, the government passed a temporary measure in July, but it runs out October 29th. In a bipartisan collaboration, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has unveiled their plan to spend up to $325 billion over the next six years on transportation projects, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015.
The proposal breaks the spending down into three main areas: $261 appropriated to highways, $55 billion going to transit and about $9 billion allotted to safety programs. But none of those numbers mean anything unless Congress figures out a plan to pay for the last three years. The first three years would be guaranteed spending, but the last three will need authorization from Congress. Members of the transportation industry and their advocates have criticized Congress for years for never being able to pass an infrastructure measure expanding more than two years. The last one lasting longer than two years was a decade ago.
The 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century transportation measure has been extended twice. Another short term measure is likely to give the final version from the House time to be looked over and passed by the Senate. For years, members of the House and Senate have been struggling to find common ground on creating a long-term transportation bill, but Congress just can’t seem to get on the same page about where the funding should come from.
Traditionally, funding comes from the federal gas tax, which sits at 18.4 cents per gallon currently. While the federal government spends about $50 each year on transportation projects, the gas tax only collects about $34 billion a year, leaving quite a deficit each year. According to numbers by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the funding for the bill will need about $100 billion more, in addition to what is contributed by the gas tax. Though transportation advocates rally behind the idea, neither the House nor the Senate want to increase the gas tax and are working to find other ways to make up the difference.
This past summer, Republicans in the House rejected a bill created by the Senate called the DRIVE act due to lack of guaranteed funding and have been under fire for Senate Democrats since then. This new bill from the House, which has a $50 million higher price tag, stipulated that lawmakers would have to “unlock” the last three years of funding if a source was found, as opposed to promising it now and perhaps being unable to deliver. If a source is not agreed upon, the final three years of the bill would be voided by Congress.
Another provision in the bill is the removal of carrier rankings from public view in the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability program. This includes all data on crash records,
violation history and analysis and percentile rankings. It also mandates the establishment of a study and pilot program for training those under 21 with a CDL to operate interstate. The bill also has a requirement for the FMCSA: if they want their CSA ranking system to be reinstated, they would have to “fully [implement] or satisfactorily address the issues raised”.
The vote on the Senate’s bill is expected today.