Congress to kick the can down the road (again) on highway funding

HighwayCongress will agree to a short-term extension of highway funding before it expires at the end of the month, kicking the can down the road again, so to speak.

It is the 33rd short-term extension in recent years. The New York Times suggests that this will set up an epic battle over infrastructure later this summer; doubtful.

Until Tea-Publicans agree that we need to raise taxes to pay for long overdue infrastructure improvements — something they are religiously opposed to — their tactic of robbing Peter to pay Paul (revenue neutral budgeting) will simply pit one interest against another, leading to gridlock. House Approves Short-Term Financing for Highways:

The House on Tuesday approved a two-month extension of funding for transportation projects, setting up what could be a defining fight over money for highways and other infrastructure this summer after years of stopgap measures.

The extension, which passed in a 387-to-35 vote with one member voting present, would maintain funding for the Highway Trust Fund through July 31. The bill now goes to the Senate, which has just two legislative days left before a scheduled weeklong Memorial Day recess. The transportation program’s spending authority is set to expire during that break, on May 31.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, supported the Republican-sponsored legislation for short-term financing, but cautioned that Democrats would spend those 60 days finding permanent funding of the program, which for years relied on fuel taxes that are no longer keeping pace with the nation’s transportation needs.

“We believe very strongly that it is time to come to grips with a responsible, paid-for, effective, long-term extension of the highway bill,” Mr. Hoyer said.

Congress has been grappling with how to pay for maintenance and upgrades to roads, bridges and other infrastructure since the last plan expired in 2009. The gasoline and diesel taxes that provide most of the financing were last increased in 1993, a shortfall made worse because Americans are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and are buying less gasoline than they once did. Yet lawmakers in both parties, and President Obama, have declined to endorse raising the fuel tax, pressing Congress to find an alternative source of funding.

NOTE: Some states are trying a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax. Oregon to try U.S.’s first mileage-based road tax, and California Might Replace Gas Sales Tax With Mileage Tax. I’m not sure how mileage could be tracked and verified for tax purposes. That’s why the gas tax is collected at the pump.

In Oregon, beginning July 1: “The state will provide an OBD mileage-tracking device to up to 5,000 volunteers. The test subjects will still pay Oregon’s current fuel tax at the pump—$0.30 per gallon, plus a local tax of up to 5 cents in some cities—but at the end of each month the state DOT will analyze the vehicle data, and either rebate or charge the drivers the difference between the fuel tax they paid and the proposed 1.5 cent-per-mile levy.” That sounds way too complex to me to be cost effective.

The fight over financing has forced Congress to pass numerous short-term extensions, often just before leaving town for recess.

* * *

The House bill will meet some resistance. Senate Democrats said the short-term extension, would perpetuate the uncertainty that has made it difficult for state and local officials to build and maintain infrastructure.

“What the Republicans have given us now is an opportunity for America to patch its way to prosperity,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. “They believe that if you fill enough potholes, you can actually build a highway.”

But most Democrats, nonetheless, reluctantly agreed to the short-term fix. The Obama administration released a statement shortly before the House vote saying it did not oppose the stopgap measure because more time was needed to come to a long-term agreement.

House Republicans also made it clear that they saw the extension as extra time to find new funding.

* * *

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, offered a glimpse of the fight to come, saying he would like to pair consideration of a long-term highway bill with tax reform.

Mr. Hoyer said that while he supports comprehensive tax reform and would consider such a plan, that he was skeptical that Republicans could deliver a plan with broad appeal within 60 days.

EddieMunster“It’s very difficult to perceive Mr. Ryan coming up with a comprehensive tax reform package between now and July 31,” he said, referring to Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “We’ll be interested in seeing what he has to offer.”

The GOP’s alleged boy genius, Ayn Rand fanboy Paul Ryan, is not capable of producing any workable bill. Kick this idiot to the curb and find someone who actually knows what they are doing.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said he was for a multiyear highway bill and raised the possibility of funding it while extending a series of business tax breaks that are renewed annually, known as tax extenders. Mr. Thune said he thought passing tax reform would not be possible.

“What I would like to see happen — perfect world — is do tax extenders and the highway bill in that 60-day period so we’re not dealing with this at the end of the year,” he said.

America’s needs are always held up by businesses seeking even more special interest tax breaks. And when the next bridge or highway collapses, and people are killed due to congressional neglect of our infrastructure . . . ?

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