* House leaders open to long-term bill at today's levels
* Extra money needed to counter shortfall of tax receipts
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican leaders in the
House are willing to try and find more
money for highway and bridge construction and transit upgrades
as part of long-term transportation funding legislation.
John Mica, chairman of the Transportation Committee,
recently received a commitment from leadership to help identify
new sources of funding to try to ensure that budgeting over a
six-year period would at least meet today's spending levels, a
senior congressional aide told Reuters.
Mica was not available to comment.
House Speaker John Boehner has said infrastructure is one
area where Republicans and Democrats may find common ground in
a bitter partisan climate over spending and deficit reduction.
Cash-strapped states are eager for details on what Congress
might be willing to spend on road and bridge construction with
the current flow of federal dollars only authorized by a
temporary law through March.
The Transportation Department devotes about $50 billion
annually to transportation construction. But revenue to fund
those projects is generated by gasoline tax receipts, which
have been declining steadily in recent years due to high pump
prices, more fuel efficient cars and a tough economy.
Congress has had to rescue highway transportation programs
with separate multi-billion-dollar cash infusions, something
Republicans say is no longer an option.
Mica has yet to propose a formal long-term transportation
funding blueprint in the Republican-led House, but has said he
wants a six-year bill.
Forecasts for federal gas tax receipts over the next six
years are expected to settle at about $35 billion annually.
Maintaining funding at today's level over that period would
require another $100 billion.
Republicans and the Obama administration reject any
increase in the gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon to bolster
highway funding even though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,
influential transportation research groups and many Democrats
Mica has said he would look at unspent federal
transportation programs for additional funds for highway
construction. However, it is unclear whether that plan has
His office would not comment on potential funding sources.
But separate legislation proposed in the House would direct
a percentage of royalties from any new U.S. oil and gas
drilling to transportation projects.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, called that
approach a "budget gimmick," saying any royalties from energy
development would not likely flow to the Treasury for years.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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