Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is proposing a three-month patch to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through the end of the year.
The patch would be paid for with general funds, balanced by adjustments including raising the heavy vehicle use tax.
The Senate Finance Committee, which Wyden chairs, will vote on the proposal Thursday morning.
“I hope to see the committee take decisive bipartisan action and send a clear message that stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund is a priority now,” Wyden said in a statement.
He described the bill as “an imperative first step” as the committee works toward a long-term highway funding fix.
“Failure to act now could lead to a transportation shutdown, leaving our roads in disrepair and putting thousands of hard-working Americans out of their jobs,” Wyden said.
The Fund is on track to dip into the red in August or even late July, according to the Department of Transportation.
State transportation departments are reporting that without assured funding they will have to stall pending projects and stop current ones.
Long-term solutions are on the table. For example, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., recently proposed a 10-year program based on raising gasoline and diesel taxes six cents a year for two years, then indexing them to the Consumer Price Index.
But Wyden’s move reflects the political difficulty of raising taxes now, with control of the Senate at stake in mid-term elections in November.
The Obama administration has a long-term plan funded by corporate tax reform and has not supported a fuel tax increase, although it has said it is open to working with Congress.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he is disappointed by Wyden’s approach.
“The Senate appears to be heading down a partisan road on highway funding,” Camp said in a statement.
“Simply put, there is no way tax hikes to pay for more spending will fly in the House. I am looking at policies that have a history of bicameral, bipartisan support, and I intend to have the Ways and Means Committee ready to act early in July.”
Camp has proposed a plan to comprehensively reform the tax code that would yield $126.5 billion over eight years to the Trust Fund.
American Trucking Associations, which supports a fuel tax increase, is evaluating the Wyden plan, said spokesman Sean McNally.
“We appreciate the Senator’s leadership on this critical issue and urge Congress and the administration to guarantee the Trust Fund’s solvency in the near term, and work together to set the course for long-term, reliable funding,” McNally said.
ATA recently said it would support other options besides a fuel tax increase, including a short-term transfer from the General Fund as Wyden has proposed.
Wyden’s bill would raise the maximum heavy vehicle use fee from $550 to $1,100 a year.
The fee is now set at $100 per year for trucks grossing between 55,000 and 75,000 pounds, with an additional $22 for each 1,000 pounds over 55,000 pounds. Trucks grossing more than 75,000 pounds pay $550 a year.
The bill would change this formula. It would raise the maximum to $1,100 a year. Trucks grossing between 55,000 and 97,000 pounds would pay $100 plus $22 for each 1,000 pounds over 55,000. Trucks grossing more than 97,000 pounds would pay the $1,100 rate.
Other adjustments in the bill include changes in tax reporting requirements, treatment of mortgages, passport policy and distribution rules for pension plans.