U.S. Senate Adopts Highway Trust Fund Fix and Amendments; Additional House Action Required01-Aug-2014 On the afternoon of Tuesday July 30, 2014 the Senate opened debate and then passed, by a vote of 79-18, legislation to implement a short-term fix that prevents the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) from becoming insolvent. The final bill passed by the Senate extends the current authorization law for transit, highway and highway safety programs through December 31, 2014, and includes two amendments adopted during consideration. It provides approximately $8.2 billion in revenues to the HTF, which will avert its insolvency through the extension of authorizing law.
The Senate brought H.R. 5021, the House passed version of the HTF bill, to the floor for debate. The House bill provides approximately $10.8 billion in revenues to the HTF and extends the authorizations for transit, highway and highway safety programs funded from the HTF through the end of May 31, 2015.
Under an agreement reached by Senate Leaders last week to provide for consideration of the House bill, the Senate limited itself to four amendments, and set a 60-vote threshold for each amendment and final passage of the bill.
The Senate adopted two of the four considered amendments, including Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) amendment to alter some of the House bill’s budgetary offsets, chiefly by reducing the amount raised by the House’s pension smoothing provision and replacing it with a tax compliance component. Chairman Wyden’s amendment was adopted by a vote of 71-26.
The Senate also adopted by a vote of 66-31, an amendment offered Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), and Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), to limit the extension to the end of December, rather than through May 2015. The amendment functionally requires Congress to revisit the issue during this calendar year and puts pressure on lawmakers to find a longer-term revenue solution in the Congressional lame duck session following the November elections.
Failing by a vote of 47-50, was Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) amendment, which would expand the current categorical exclusion with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for federally funded projects to rebuild bridges, roads, highways, railroads and transit facilities damaged during a disaster to also include exemption from approvals, licensing and permit requirements under a variety of other Federal environmental statutes.
Finally, by a vote of 28-69, the Senate defeated Senator Mike Lee’s (R-UT) amendment, the Transportation Empowerment Act, which would reduce the Federal motor fuels taxes over five years and devolve most of the Federal role in transit and highway programs and projects to the states.
Because the Senate amended the House passed legislation, the bill now must be sent back to the House. The House could choose to pass the Senate passed bill, or pass an amended version, or strike all of the Senate’s amendments and send back the original House bill, for the Senate’s consideration. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced yesterday that any Senate changes would be rejected by the House and that the House bill would be sent back to the Senate for further consideration.
Two weeks ago, during the House’s consideration of H.R. 5021, the President, in an official Statement of Administration Policy, expressed support for the House bill. As of Wednesday morning, the Administration had not stated its position on the Senate passed bill.
With the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund facing revenue shortfalls within the next few weeks and the Mass Transit Account following within a few months, the Senate may choose to adopt the House bill simply due to time constraints, with Congress set to recess at the end of this week until after Labor Day. Failure by the House and Senate to reach agreement prior to adjourning for August recess, will likely force the Department of Transportation to curb reimbursements to State Departments of Transportation.
APTA has urged Congress to take action to address the short-term insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund in order to prevent a shutdown of transit and highway investments in the coming months. However, APTA has also stated its strong support for action by Congress in this calendar year. APTA has called on Congress to finish the job by addressing the long-term revenue and funding needs for surface transportation and maintain its focus this year on securing long-term and sustainable revenues dedicated to transportation infrastructure investment. According to a statement by APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy, “Our national economy depends on immediate action. Restoring the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund is essential to creating jobs and sustaining the infrastructure that is the backbone of our economy.”