UPDATED---Congress appears to be coming together to pass a plan to rescue the Highway Trust Fund, used to pay for federal road and bridge projects, before it runs out of money in August, putting hundreds of road construction jobs at risk and shuttering thousands of highway projects.
On Thursday, Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee dropped earlier demands for a short-term fix through near the end of the year, that would have required the issued to be addressed again after the mid-term November elections in a lame-duck session.
The panel ending up passing a $10.9 billion package, sponsored by committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., extending funding through next spring. The full Senate will likely consider it later this month.
Earlier in the day the House Ways and Means Committee approved a $10.5 billion package providing enough money into next May. The full House is expected to consider the legislation next week.
Before the Senate committee met it was believed the move by the House Ways and Means Committee was setting up for a potential battle with Senate Democrats, however, afterwards both sides gave high marks to what appears to be a compromise.
The plans rely heavily on revenue from changes to company pension rules and customs fees to offset the bulk of the cost of replenishing the Highway Trust Fund. It also relies on transferring $1 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, but has no tax increases on trucking.
Democrats have were earlier critical of such a plan saying it relies on accounting maneuvers to pay for the bill, rather than increasing the federal gasoline and diesel taxes, which has received support from the American Trucking Associations.
The Highway Trust Fund is primarily funded by federal taxes on gasoline and diesel, but neither have been increased since 1993. It is running short due to increasing transportation funding needs as well as vehicles being more fuel-efficient. That’s led to a shortfall of around $16 billion annual, according to some estimates.
The American Trucking Associations responded to the agreements with a call for a longer-term solution.
"We applaud the House and Senate committees for moving a short-term solution forward, but extending the funding problem well into 2015, could endanger the nation's economy, the future of the trucking industry and, most importantly, the safety of truck drivers and other highway users," President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement.
“For decades, America's 3.2 million truck drivers have witnessed the effects of underinvestment in our highway system through their windshields. Our drivers see the 63,000 deficient bridges; thousands of miles of highways in poor condition and increasingly heavy congestion that pollutes our air, costs all of us money, takes time away from families and makes travel needlessly dangerous. All these issues are a direct result of the inadequate, inconsistent and unpredictable funding cycle that is perpetuated by the current approach of putting off passage of a long-term revenue bill.”
Update adds ATA response and Senate committee developments.