Congress Grapples with Transportation Funding as Deadline Nears

June 16, 2014

By Leslie Wollack

As the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund Ticker shows, current estimates point to an August date for federal funds to run out. Already, some states are warning local governments that they will stop funding new projects to avoid losing the federal reimbursement.

The current transportation program, MAP-21, expires on September 30. The administration has proposed a four-year bill, the GROW AMERICA Act, which House Transportation Highways and Transit Subcommittee leaders Rep. Tom Petri and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced this week as H.R. 4834.  

GROW AMERICA would increase funding for surface transportation and provide more local control for metropolitan planning organizations. 

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members adopted a bipartisan six-year bill that makes few changes to the current program. Several additional Senate committees have jurisdiction over portions of the program, including the transit, freight and safety components.  

House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster has held several hearings and committee members are holding sessions around the country to hear from constituents, but the committee has not introduced a legislative proposal yet. 

A proposal from the House leadership would use savings from the elimination of Saturday mail delivery, which was rejected by Senate leaders but continues to be offered as an option. The estimated savings would cover only eight months of funding, forcing Congress to make tough decisions in a few months. 

At a transportation construction industry rally at the Capitol this week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer continued his call for a 15 cent increase in the federal gas tax over three years and indexing it for inflation. Rep. Pete DeFazio is recommending a tax on oil companies.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, charged with responsibility for finding the funds to extend the program, has held talks with committee members but offered no solution yet. One of the solutions beginning to be discussed -- using repatriated funds from US companies operating overseas -- is opposed by business groups who want to see the funds used for comprehensive tax reform.

The emerging consensus is Congress will use a short-term fix of another transfer of general revenues to get the program past the September 30 deadline and find a solution during a lame-duck session of Congress.  

Local officials are urged to continue their advocacy efforts, highlighting the economic value of transportation investments in their communities. Take advantage of the NLC’s Transportation Advocacy toolkit and let us know that you did.

We want to make sure that every member of Congress hears from local leaders and understands that local governments are the majority owners and operators of roads, bridges and transit systems.

If you write a letter, adopt a local resolution, provide testimony at a local hearing or have an opportunity to meet with your representatives at home or in DC, please let NLC know what you are hearing from your Congressional delegation at advocacy@nlc.org.