U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue said on Thursday Congress should pass a long-term surface transportation bill that mirrors the six-year highway plan that expired in 2009, rather than the stripped-down versions proposed by the House and Senate.
“I’ll take a long-term bill with what we’re spending now instead of letting it all lapse and having a 30 or 35 percent cut [in the Highway Trust Fund],” said Donohue. “I believe that there is a growing sense that there is a growing understanding in both the House and Senate that we have got to step up and get this done on a long-term basis.”
The last highway bill, known as SAFETEA-LU, has been extended several times, with the most recent extension expiring March 31. The bill provides $48 billion per year for highway infrastructure, about the same amount House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., proposed in a bill last October.
However, House Republicans said a month later that they would likely have to scale the bill from six years to five years, and they are still looking to fill the $75 to $100 billion funding gap.
In December the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a two-year, $109 billion measure, but the bill lacks $12 billion in funding. Opponents say the level of spending would deplete the HTF in two years.
The HTF is expected to sustain a 35 percent shortfall later this year, said Janet F. Kavinoky, the chamber’s director of transportation infrastructure policy. HTF money had been supplemented by infusions from general revenue for the past two years.
The chamber is now seeking support among other trade groups for the plan Donohue is putting forward.
Donohue said that the country has to face “a fundamental reality” that federal fuel tax revenue, which goes into the trust fund, will have to be increased. The tax has been unchanged since 1993, having more efficient vehicles on the road today is shrinking the amount going into the trust fund.
“You’re paying less, and putting more wear and tear on the roads,” Donohue said. “We have got to deal with that issue.”