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HTF: Running on Empty? House, Senate Take Different Approaches

As members of Congress eye the calendar for their August recess and as MAP-21 nears its expiration on Sept. 30, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee are working to advance agreements to prevent the pending insolvency of the Highway Account of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), estimated to occur in August, with the Mass Transit Account running dry as early as October.

“Members of Congress must act before they leave for their month-long recess in August if the industry is going to avoid a slowdown in payments, which will stall or stop public transportation infrastructure ­projects throughout the country,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced legislation in the House (H.R. 5021) that would raise about $10.7 billion through “pension smoothing” (which allows employers to delay contributions to employee pension plans, thus increasing companies’ taxable income and generating additional tax revenue), extending some custom fees, and transferring money from the Leaking Underground ­Storage Tank Trust Fund.

Camp says his proposal would fund the HTF through May 2015, adding that his funding approaches have been used by Congress in the past. He announced that the committee would mark up the bill on July 10, after Passenger Transport went to press. (See APTA's Legislative Alert for the latest details.)

The Senate Finance Committee is tentatively scheduled to mark up its version of the bill on July 10 as well. Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said that he and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) are moving forward on a short-term patch for the fund by using various tax-related reforms. “We are making progress on avoiding a shutdown that, in my view, would cost our country tens of thousands of jobs,” Wyden said at a July 8 press conference. “When there is so much concern about wages, transportation jobs often pay very strong living wages that support families.”

Hatch said both sides of the aisle want to develop a bipartisan solution. “We’re really trying to work in a bipartisan way, and I hope we can,” he said.

The Senate proposal is expected to result in a three-month extension through Dec. 31, raising about $8.2 billion for the HTF and its Mass Transit Account and giving Congress additional time to develop a long-term bill in a lame duck session.

See additional stories in this issue of Passenger Transport.
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