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Senate Committee Clears Highway Funding Measure

February 08, 2012

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The Senate Finance Committee Tuesday evening passed a bill to provide funding for a two-year highway program.

The measure is a $9.6 billion bundle of transfers and revenue offsets that no one on the committee particularly liked as a solution to the highway funding shortfall but a majority accepted because failure to act would doom the highway bill.
The Senate Finance Committee flirted briefly with the idea of indexing fuel taxes to inflation.
The Senate Finance Committee flirted briefly with the idea of indexing fuel taxes to inflation.


"This is a short-term fix," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. "We need a long-term funding source."

In that spirit, the committee flirted briefly, and not seriously, with the idea of indexing fuel taxes to inflation.

To signal what needs to be done in the long run to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., offered and then withdrew an indexing amendment.

The concept drew support from Senators on both sides.

"Sen. Enzi raises the issue that matters," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

"We need this kind of change," said Sen. Thomas Carper, D. Del. "Things worth having are worth paying for."

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., raised the ante, saying he would vote for indexing then and there.

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he would go for it, too, but the discussion was hypothetical since the amendment had been withdrawn.

Baucus did indicate, though, that the idea has a future. "When unemployment comes down and housing comes back, this will be on table," he said.

The bill they passed transfers money from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund to the Highway Trust Fund, ends a tax credit on alternative fuel called "black liquor," and transfers the income from the gas guzzler tax to the Highway Trust Fund. It also makes a number of changes in the tax law to offset revenue transfers.

The bill now joins other highway legislation already passed by several committees and is scheduled for the Senate floor today.

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