House bill helps prevent transportation funding shortfall

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A bill to help prevent a shortfall in transportation funding won overwhelming approval Wednesday, July 23, in the House of Representatives. The final vote total was 387-37.

The bill, H.R. 6532, restores $8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund to avert an expected revenue shortfall in the coming fiscal year that is projected to be as high as $14 billion, more than one-third of the originally projected revenues. This would have a disastrous impact on transportation projects across the country and cost up to 380,000 family-wage jobs, the bill’s supporters say.

“Earlier this year, the president’s budget estimated a shortfall of $3.2 billion by the end of FY 2009,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. “Since then, gas prices have risen dramatically, and Americans are driving less. In fact, Americans have driven 20 billion fewer miles overall this year.”

As a result, gas tax revenues are down, said Oberstar, who noted that $2 billion less was collected during the first eight months of FY 2008 compared to the same period in FY 2007. “This unexpected and severe decline in revenues makes it even more critical that we take decisive action now to ensure the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund,” he said.

The bipartisan bill, which restores $8 billion in highway user-fee revenue that was taken from the trust fund in 1998, is designed to ensure that the trust fund remains solvent through the current authorization period, which ends on Sept. 30. The bill now goes to the Senate.

“This is not the time to reduce our pathetic investment in infrastructure,” said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. “There are 150,000 structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges on our roads today, trucks are being rerouted because of weight restrictions, and people are wasting hours and high-priced gas idling in traffic.”

DeFazio said that without H.R. 6532, Oregon was facing a loss of $139 million in funds for highway projects and nearly 5,000 living-wage jobs. “I am pleased the House has acted to restore these funds to the Highway Trust Fund,” he said.