President Signs a 90-Day Extension of Highway Bill

Posted on April 10, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

By Carl Chancellor

On March 30, President Barack Obama signed a last-minute, three-month extension of a highway bill that allows the fed to continue collecting the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax and prevents the shutdown of countless transportation projects.

Getting the bill to the president’s desk, however, was an extremely bumpy ride with more than its share of hairpin political twists and turns.

House Republicans and Democrats, playing what has become the all too familiar game of chicken, battled right up to the deadline set for the transportation bill to expire. Democrats wanted swift approval of a two-year, $109 billion transportation measure that passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote. Republicans in the House, however, didn’t like the bill’s funding mechanism and were instead pushing a five-year $260 billion alternative measure, which would have been paid for in part by oil drilling royalties and from taxes and fees linked to the controversial Keystone Pipeline project that most Democrats oppose.

Such bitter partisan rancor over the transportation bill is a sign-of-the political times. In the past Republicans and Democrats had little problem agreeing on transportation legislation due to highway projects being seen as good for business and creating jobs. Further, since every congressional district has roads, bridges, and railroads, everyone benefited.

Extensions to the highway bill have been routine, in fact, this was the ninth time that Congress has hammered out stop-gap legislation to extend the highway authorization bill, which expired in 2009. The 90-day reprieve means that Congress is going to have to wrestle with this issue again and some how reach an agreement on a final long-term transportation bill before the July 4 recess. Although, what is most likely to happen is that they will enact yet another extension.

The problem with “kicking the can down the road” is that the money needed to keep the nation’s transportation system running just isn’t there. Gas tax revenues, which fuel the Highway Trust Fund, have been falling steadily for years as Americans drive less and cars continue to become more fuel efficient. The last time the federal gas tax was raised was in 1993, which has meant the Trust Fund has run into funding problems over the years. Rather than seriously deal with the funding shortfall, Congress has stuck its finger in the dike and has juggled federal dollars around. Most recently, lawmakers dipped into general funds and stimulus money to keep the money flowing to road and bridge project. But funding gimmicks won’t solve the problem. By 2018 the Highway Trust Fund is predicted to be $80 billion in the red.

Some in Congress have suggested shifting the responsibility for our transportation infrastructure to the states. Where already cash strapped states would find the money is anyone’s guess. Clearly, the most obvious solution to the problem is to raise the gas tax. But even floating such an idea, particularly in a presidential election year, is political hara-kiri.

So in a matter of weeks Americans will again head down an all too familiar road—the same nasty, rutted, bone jarring road we’ve been forced to travel down to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, extend payroll tax breaks, and fund the FAA. Frankly, American voters are tired of the ride.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.

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