Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Passes Transportation Reauthorization Bill

Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Passes Transportation Reauthorization Bill

On Wednesday, June 24th, the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee marked up and passed out of Committee the bipartisan S. 1647, the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act. The DRIVE Act reauthorizes highway funding and other transportation funding for 6 years at a total cost of $275B. Funding for current highway programs expires on July 31.

The DRIVE Act was introduced by Senate EPW Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and has bipartisan cosponsorship with Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee Chairman David Vitter (R-LA) and T&I Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) all cosponsoring the legislation. While the EPW Committee passed the DRIVE Act, the problem of how to pay for highway programs remains. In the Senate, the Finance Committee has jurisdiction over paying for highway funding because the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is funded through the federal gas tax. However, for a variety of reasons, the receipts from the gas tax have not been sufficient to cover the costs of the highway funding bill for the last several years. As a result, highway programs have not been reauthorized for more than 2 years at a time since 2005 because legislators have been unable to come up with a long-term plan to fund the Highway Trust Fund. Republican leaders have continually repeated that they will not raise the gas tax in order to cover these costs, and over the years, Congress has only been able to find short-term funding patches to meet the spending. So far, this has not changed this Congress as highway programs are currently operating under a 2 month extension. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the gap between the receipts from the gas tax funding the HTF and the spending on highway programs is $16B a year. Thus, the Finance Committee will have to figure out how to come up with nearly $100B over the next 6 years. Without raising the gas tax, this will almost certainly have to come from some broader tax reform measure that so far has not been able to be agreed to. Thus, it is likely that highway programs will have to be extended again past the July 31 deadline for at least a few months, while a plan to pay for the highway programs is developed and agreed to by both the Senate and House. Meanwhile, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has yet to introduce any similar legislation further complicating efforts to pass a long-term reauthorization before the July 31st deadline. However, the DRIVE Act is at least a blueprint for transportation programs that will be ready if a funding mechanism is ever agreed to by Congress.

For the Tribal Transportation Program, the DRIVE Act contains increases to funding levels from the current $450M per year to $460M in FY16, $470M in FY17, $480M in FY18, $490M in FY19, $500M in FY20, and $510M in FY21. In addition, the DRIVE Act would authorize a new program to fund “Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects” at $150M per year. This program would enable federal land agencies and tribes to apply for transportation funding for projects that exceed $25M in cost (with preference for projects costing over $50M) and meet other criteria including the need for construction, reconstruction, or rehabilitation. The DRIVE Act also contains a provision lowering the cap on the Department of Interior’s and department of Transportation’s administrative expenses for program management from 6% to 5%.

A copy of S. 1647, the DRIVE Act can be found here: http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=ed58c727-1911-407e-af74-936f80ccc563

A summary of the bill provided but the EPW Committee can be found here: http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=579cda8c-2abc-47ea-b5a0-a67b2181d118