The fight over the future of transportation funding in the United States has once again pitted the House against the Senate and Republicans against Democrats. In June, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill to spend $55.3 billion on transportation and housing projects through December 18. 2015, with only three Democrats voting yes to the bill. The intention of the short-term bill was to give representatives more time to craft a longer term bill. The House bill, however, also included amendments restricting travel to Cuba, blocking funds for the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and attempted to undo recent trucking regulations, which angered House Democrats and the White House.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) gave a grave warning of the current system of transportation and infrastructure funding.
“We cannot patch our way to prosperity with temporary, short-term answers to long-term problems. In just the past six years, there have been more than 30 extensions of surface transportation programs. This is not the way to run the federal highway and transit program.”
Now it’s the Senate’s turn to attempt to pass their own transportation bill. They have a tight deadline to meet since the last measure passed to finance infrastructure programs in the country expires July 31st.
The Senate Bill, which Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) brokered with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is a six-year authorization, although funding appropriations in the bill extend for only the first three years. The bill allocates $47 billion to fund the revenue gap between federal gas tax and other transportation revenue ($35 billion a year) and yearly expenditures ($50 billion a year).
Problems of funding have also divided the two sides but both sides have been firm in their desire to keep the gas tax at current levels, rather than raising it. The House proposed funding the gap between projected costs and expected revenues with a one-time tax on $2 trillion in business income brought back to the United States.
The Senate bill, on the other hand, includes revenue-increasing methods such as:
- Selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to raise $9 billion.
- Reducing the dividends paid to certain banks by the Federal Reserve to raise $16.3 billion.
- Indexing various custom fees to inflation to raise $4 billion.
- Increasing Transportation Security Administration fees to raise $3.5 billion.
- Extending certain guarantees on mortgage-backed securities to raise $1.9 billion.
- Adjusting various tax compliance measures to raise an additional $7.7 billion.
While the Senate bill may not directly raise the gas tax, it increases revenues through various raises in fees (fees which are essentially very similar to taxes). This seems quite contrary to Senator McConnell assurances that the Senate bill “does not increase the deficit or raise taxes.”