Congress Closer to Agreement on Shoring Up Highway Fund

Image: Congress Closer to Agreement on Shoring Up Highway Fund

Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 05:21 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Lawmakers may be inching closer to a deal to reinforce the Highway Trust Fund before it dries up next month and avert a fiscal disaster that could shutter infrastructure projects around the country.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chairman of the chamber's Finance Committee, has been in talks with Republicans to find a solution to the funding dilemma, The Hill reported.

"The way I would characterize it is, we are making progress on avoiding a shutdown that would in my view cost our country tens of thousands of jobs," Wyden said Tuesday, The Hill reported.

Democrats characterize the construction shutdown that would be triggered by a bankrupt fund as akin to the government shutdown last October, when Republicans were criticized for triggering the two-week stall.

The Obama administration claims 700,000 jobs would be lost if the trust fund goes bust.

"There are a lot of transportation jobs that pay good wages," Wyden said. "If you had a transportation shutdown here you'd end up harming some of those middle-class people who actually get wages that can support families."

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top GOP member on the committee, said he was confident there would be a short-term deal, at least.

"I think we'll resolve this problem," Hatch said, The Hill reported. "But the big problem is, what do we about the approximately $100 billion we really need to raise in the future? And we're going to have to come up with a way of doing that."

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has warned that starting next month, states will see an average 28 percent drop in federal transportation funding because of the draining fund, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Its balance is expected to approach zero next month, down from $8 billion at the end of May, The Journal reports.

Congress has tried for months to figure out a way to make the fund solvent; a gas tax used to pay for construction projects no longer brings in enough money to keep up with federal spending, The Journal notes.

Trucking industry newspaper Transport Topics reports a slew of government groups are gearing up to put the pressure on Congress.

"As the owners and operators of 97 percent of the nation's interconnected surface transportation systems, state and local governments know that a long-term vision and funding certainty are best for our country's infrastructure," a letter sent to congressional leaders on Monday stated.

"Jobs, infrastructure projects, and the safe and timely movement of freight are now at risk because of the impending insolvency of the HTF."

Those signing the letter were the National Conference of State Legislatures; the National Governors Association; the Council of State Governments; the National Association of Counties; the National League of Cities; the U.S. Conference of Mayors; and the International City/County Management Association, the trade paper said.

"Federal inaction and short-term extensions create uncertainty at the state and local levels, which hinders transformative transportation investments and prevents our nation's economy from moving forward," the letter said.


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