Bush signs highway spending extension

Bush signs highway spending extension

WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed into law a two-month extension of the federal highway programs Sunday, giving the House more time to explore options to pay for road projects without raising the national gas tax.

The underlying law that provides federal support for highway and other surface transportation programs expired Sept. 30, but was extended through Feb. 29. The Senate passed its version of a six-year highway plan, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act, or SAFE-TEA, on Feb. 12. The bill would cost about $318 billion.

The House has proposed its own $375 billion version, the Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or TEA-LU. However, the Bush administration and House Republican leadership have balked at proposals in the legislation to raise the 18.4-cent per gallon gasoline tax by about five cents. The Senate bill does not raise the gas tax or use money from general funds.

The two-month extension should give the House enough time to complete action on its own proposal, then work out differences with the Senate-approved measure.

The administration's proposal -- which uses the same SAFE-TEA acronym as the Senate -- would provide about $256 billion. The administration said it would veto any measure that raises taxes or dips into the general fund.

"I urge Congress to use the time provided by this second extension to give America a bill that allows states to plan and construct critical highway and transit projects, without raising gas taxes, increasing the deficit or taking money from other important federal programs," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said Friday.