Highways, Bridges and Roads

GOP Rep. Broun draws line in the sand over spending in transit compromise bill

Georgia Rep. Paul Broun (R) is calling for members of the conference committee that is negotiating a new federal highway bill to limit the amount of spending to the amount of money brought in by the federal gas tax.

Broun, a staunchly conservative member of the House Republican caucus, is introducing a motion to instruct House members of the transportation conference to cap spending at the approximately $35 billion that is brought in per year by the highway trust fund, his office said. 

{mosads}Transportation observers worried Thursday that the motion signaled the Republican-led House was taking a hard line in negotiations that have been going on among the 47-member conference committee for the better part of a month.

But Broun said transportation advocates should live within their means in any new road and transit funding bill that becomes law this year.

“It would be inexcusable to have to bail out the Highway Trust Fund for a fourth time since 2009 — and that’s the road we’re headed down if this bill passes as it stands today,” he said in a statement provided to The Hill. “Our motion to instruct would simply restore the inherent limits which were built into the Highway Trust Fund and ask that the conferees only obligate funds, which are equal to what the CBO projects the government will take in via the federal gas tax through the end of fiscal year 2013.”

Eno Center for Transportation President Joshua Schank said Thursday that there could be more to Broun’s motion than meets the eye.

“Over the past month there has been lots of happy talk about passing the transportation bill but this … is the House saying that they are not interested in working together and they are going to derail the process,” Schank said in a statement.

The highway trust fund is the traditional source for funding road and
transit projects, but advocates of higher transportation spending have
long argued it does not generate enough money to properly maintain and
improve the national system of roads and highways.

The conference committee is working to meld a two-year, $109-billion transportation bill that was passed by the Senate with two temporary extensions of current funding that were approved by the House.

The Senate’s version of the measure spends about $13 billion more than is brought in each year by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon tax on gas that is used to fill the coffers of the highway trust fund. The House had originally favored a five-year, $260-billion bill that also spent more per year than the highway trust fund’s annual intake. 

The House proposed paying for the shortfall in transportation revenue by increasing domestic oil drilling, but the measure that would have authorized the funding (H.R. 7) was unable to pass in the lower chamber.

Broun said Thursday it was “time for the gimmicks to stop.”

“Spend now, pay later doesn’t cut it for the American people,” he said of the ongoing transportation negotiations. “So let’s keep the spending in check until projects like the Keystone XL pipeline or other domestic energy initiatives actually produce profits.”

Schank said, however, that Broun’s motion was a “bad sign for getting things done as things need to be completed before the August recess.”

“At the end of June, Congress must pass another extension, but talks must be going well by the end of the month in order to pass a short-term extension,” Schank said. “If not, Congress will have to pass an extension that goes into 2013.”

But the conservative Heritage Foundation’s political arm is urging lawmakers to support Broun’s motion.

“Taxpayers, as opposed to users, are left on the hook when spending on highway and transit programs outpace revenues coming into the HTF,” Heritage Action for America said in an alert to its members. 

“[The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users], the disastrous 2005 transportation bill, resulted in more than $30 billion in general fund transfers,” the group’s email continued. “The Broun Motion to Instruct would maintain the ‘promise’ of the Trust fund, ensure sustainable funding levels and protect taxpayers from yet another bailout.”

The current funding for highway and transit programs is scheduled to expire June 30. The House has passed a subsequent extension through Sept. 30, but that measure would have to also be approved by the Senate in order to become law.

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