Nearly every Republican on the Senate Finance Committee has asked the panel’s Democratic chairman to approve a short-term legislative fix that would shore up a federal highway account projected to run out of money in August.
In a letter obtained by Transport Topics, nine GOP senators, including ranking committee member Orrin Hatch of Utah, wrote to Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on June 12 to “strongly encourage enactment of a short-term measure” that ensures the Highway Trust Fund “is able to continue making payments to states without interruption.”
“The intent of this letter is to show our commitment to maintain the highway and mass-transit accounts of the Highway Trust Fund for a finite period of time while we work together on a long-term solution,” the senators wrote.
The Republicans lawmakers noted they would sign off on a series of funding proposals they say could inject funds to address the highway account’s looming shortfall. The proposals include expanding oil and gas exploration in Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf, scaling back on federal credit for plug-in vehicles and reducing subsidies for Amtrak.
“We believe it is appropriate to consider Amtrak subsidies as a source of short-term HTF funding,” the senators wrote, noting that the Congressional Budget Office determined that certain federal subsidies for Amtrak supports an “operation of uneconomic services and routes … that are not used extensively.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have scheduled a press conference for June 18 to unveil a plan to change the federal motor fuels tax in order to help finance the trust fund.
Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mike Crapo of Idaho, members of the Finance panel, are not shown to have signed the letter to the chairman.
Wyden has yet to announce a funding solution. He has scheduled a committee hearing June 18 in which aides familiar with the matter say funding would be discussed. Transportation experts say the fund would need about $10 billion to $15 billion to remain solvent for several months.
On June 17, the Department of Transportation announced the fund would be insolvent by August. If the Highway Trust Fund falls short on cash, many road, rail and transit projects around the country could come to a halt, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
“Congress needs to fix the Highway Trust Fund before it runs dry,” Foxx blogged. “In a challenging legislative environment, that doesn't give us a lot of time.”