Drivers

House Will Push Highway Extension

March 21, 2012

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The House, unable to resolve internal differences regarding its five-year, $260 billion highway bill and opposed to the Senate's two-year, $109 billion measure, is going to push for a three-month extension of the current program.
The House still wants to link energy revenues with highway funding, such as drilling in previously protected areas of the Arctic.
The House still wants to link energy revenues with highway funding, such as drilling in previously protected areas of the Arctic.


Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said he will introduce the extension today.

House Republicans have been under pressure from the Senate, the White House, House Democrats and transportation interests to simply pass the bill that the Senate passed by a wide bipartisan margin last week.

However, the House still wants the five-year term and remains wedded to the idea of supplementing Highway Trust Fund revenues by taxing expanded oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and offshore.

"We continue to believe that linking energy and infrastructure is the responsible thing to do in order to meet our long-term needs," Mica said in a statement.

The current highway program is funded through the end of this month. Mica's proposal would extend it through the end of June to give the House time to come to agreement on its bill. This would be the ninth extension of the program since it officially expired in October 2009.

The House bill faltered initially when Democrats and urban Republicans objected to it taking transit funding out of the Highway Trust Fund. That decision was reversed, but some Republicans still object to the bill's overall cost, and some Democrats do not like the drilling provision.

It is not clear how the House bid for an extension will play out. Voting on the measure is scheduled for next week, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated this week he will oppose the extension and continue to push for the Senate bill.

Something has to be done by March 31 or the government's ability to collect fuel taxes will expire. If the extension prevails, then the House will have until the end of June to pass its bill and reconcile the enormous differences between it and the Senate's bill, or pass another extension.

Meanwhile, former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley and former Comptroller General David Walker put a new idea on the table for funding infrastructure reinvestment.

In an opinion piece published in a Washington newspaper, The Hill, they suggested exchanging the current gas tax with a 6% fee on all oil produced in or imported into the U.S.
The "oil security fee" could be collected through the existing administrative structure of the Oil Spill Liability Fund, they said.

With oil at $103 per barrel, the fee would offset the loss of the fuel tax. If oil fell below that price, the fuel tax could be reimposed.

"While a growing economy means our rate of federal infrastructure investment must increase, every dollar spent must yield maximum economic return," they said.

"We must hold our legislators accountable against that goal. But failure to invest is not an option, nor is pretending to pay for this investment when we do not."

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