Given all that will go on in Congress, a long-term highway bill may not come together until, yes, 2017.

Given all that will go on in Congress, a long-term highway bill may not come together until, yes, 2017.

When is good news not good news? When Congress hears about it…

To wit: Transportation-policy consultant Ken Orski argues in his latest Innovation NewsBrief update that the urgency to pass a long-term highway bill has “largely vanished” thanks to the Dept. of Transportation revealing that the Highway Trust Fund isn’t in imminent danger of running dry.

DOT said on August 20 that, based on current spending and revenue trends, it estimates that “the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund will encounter a shortfall in the fourth quarter of FY 2016.” That quarter runs from April 1st to June 30th of next year.

“While Congress will still need to reauthorize the highway program by the end of October [when the current patch expires], the unexpected and surprising announcement takes the pressure off to reach an immediate agreement on a multi-year bill,” points out Orski.   

Turning the heat down on Capitol Hill is never productive. Especially not now for trucking, not when there are monumental distractions at hand that threaten to keep the highway bill on a back burner.

Those include a fierce battle to authorize overall federal funding by September 30th without triggering another government shutdown and a vicious fight over ratifying President Obama’s no-nukes treaty with Iran.

Even if trucking and other transportation stakeholders— which includes pretty much every business lobby in the nation— not to mention millions of frustrated motorists could keep Congress focused on passing a fully funded, multi-year highway bridge, there's still the Capitol Hill divide to bridge.

“The House and Senate remain far apart on how to shape a long-term bill and provide for its funding,” says Orski. “House Speaker John Boehner's low opinion of the Senate bill has been widely publicized--and is well justified. The six-year bill is only partially funded and its offsets involve budgetary gimmicks, notably counting revenues and savings over 10 years to finance spending over three years. It also suffers from unrealistic assumptions as to the value of the offsets, such as wildly overestimated revenue derived from the proposed sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves over a period 2018-2025 --- at $89 per barrel, or almost double the current market price.”

Orski contends that Rep. Boehner (R-OH) wants a long-term highway bill that, unlike the Senate measure, is fully paid for.

“That means having to come up with $90 billion, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate, to cover a six-year spending-revenue shortfall," he points out. "To find the necessary funds, House leaders are looking to an overhaul of the international corporate tax system and its one-time tax windfall on repatriated earnings, as stipulated in the Portman (R-OH)-Schumer (D-NY) bipartisan framework for international tax reform. It's still a doubtful source of funds, but House leaders see it as more credible than the questionable Senate ‘pay-fors.’”

Over in the Senate, says Orski, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is “skeptical” about the House approach and doesn’t expect that a bipartisan deal on a tax overhaul can be put together by year’s end. “McConnell's skepticism may be well founded,” he notes. “House and Senate work on international corporate tax reform has barely begun.”

Orski says that with everything that has to be worked through, including coming up with almost $100 billion to fund a six-year highway bill, “don't be surprised by another round of interim funding-- this time through the third quarter of FY 2016 or possibly beyond the 2016 presidential election and into the next Congress.”

That's the one that will gavel in come January, 2017.

Author

David Cullen
David Cullen

David Cullen

Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

View Bio
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