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MAP-21 Deadline Looms; Congress Debates Extension

As Congress prepares to go on recess May 22 and as MAP-21 approaches its May 31 expiration, members and other policy makers are debating the law’s next iteration.

In recent weeks, different groups and members of Congress, including Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have expressed support for a short-term extension, probably through July, in an effort to keep pressure on Congress to pass a long-term bill. The latest estimates of Highway Trust Fund (HTF) balances would be sufficient to fund current transit and highway programs through July, which means that Congress could ultimately change the dates on the current extension without adding money and search for a longer term funding source in the meantime.

House leaders and the leadership of tax writing committees on both sides of Capitol Hill have argued for a longer extension, which they say would provide time to develop comprehensive tax legislation that could include funding for the HTF. Congress would need to deposit an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion into the HTF to fund current program levels through the end of the calendar year.

Although leaders from both parties and both Houses have said they want to pass a long-term bill that fixes the current shortfall in revenues, disagreement has centered on whether a short or long-term extension is the best way to get that bill.
The Senate Finance Committee will receive recommendations on May 31 from a number of working groups that are looking at the HTF and proposals to reform both corporate and individual tax policies. In the House, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) continues to push for a HTF hearing before the Committee on Ways and Means, and he and others have introduced proposals that would raise current motor fuels taxes, index those taxes, or index taxes and provide automatic increases in the future if ­Congress cannot find an alternative funding mechanism.

Separately, the House Committee on Appropriations was scheduled to mark up the FY 2016 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill as Passenger Transport went to press on May 13. Absent an authorization bill, that bill follows the current authorizing extension. (See related article.) It funds trust fund programs at the levels authorized in the most recent extension, but makes some cuts in general fund programs, including New Starts, research, Amtrak, and for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
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