Photo: Evan Lockridge

Photo: Evan Lockridge

In an effort to prevent a shutdown of the federal transportation program, the Senate Finance Committee has drafted a proposal to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through the end of the year.

The fund is on track to run into the red within a month or so, and if that happens it will jeopardize some 6,000 road projects and 700,000 jobs, according to the Department of Transportation.

“Every Senator knows that it is crunch time,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the committee, as he introduced a revised version of his proposal on Thursday.

The original version of the proposal included an increase in the heavy vehicle use tax, but Wyden dropped that provision in deference to Republican concern about the proportion of revenue raisers to spending cuts in the proposal.

Now the approximately $9 billion infusion to the Trust Fund would come from general revenues and offsets related to changes in tax compliance and enforcement policies.

Wyden said he and the ranking Republican member of the committee, Orin Hatch of Utah, will reach out to Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., for agreement on how the House will react to the Senate measure.

Camp, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, objected to the original version of the Senate’s plan because it included the increase in the heavy vehicle use tax. He said his committee will take up the issue in early July.

The Senate Finance Committee did not vote on the proposal. That will come the week of July 7, Wyden said.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., warned that it will be important for the committee to show bipartisan support for the proposal. If it’s a party-line vote, the measure will die on the Senate floor, he said.

Among the funding sources in the proposal is the transfer of $750 million from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund to the Highway Trust Fund.

Another provision changes the tax rate on liquefied natural gas. It’s now the same as the tax rate on diesel, 24.3 cents per gallon, but would be changed to 14.1 cents per gallon to reflect the lower energy content of LNG.

A key part of the proposal is a “Sense of the Senate” provision that Congress should move quickly to produce a long-term bill that will pay for the highway program through 2020.

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