Senate Tees Up Last-Minute Showdown on Transpo Funding

With just two work days left before the federal transportation funding source dips into the red, Congress is moving toward a high-stakes showdown over how to close the gap.

Yesterday the Senate passed a bill to transfer $8 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund, which would keep things running until December 19 — meaning the next deal would be struck before a new Congress is seated. The House, meanwhile, has a different idea — using unpopular budget gimmicks to extend transportation funding until May 31, when both houses of Congress may be controlled by the GOP.

Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America says the Senate bill is an improvement in a few ways:

Late Tuesday evening, the Senate modified and approved a measure transferring about $8 billion from the general fund to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent until the end of the year. But because two amendments were made, it’ll return to the House for further action before any final deal can be approved on postponing insolvency of the nation’s transportation program. The House will have to act fast: the long August recess is scheduled to begin in just three days.

Conventional wisdom had held that the Senate would adopt the House-passed bill as-is so they could finish up well before recess begins later this week. However, a strong bipartisan group supported amendments to eliminate the most controversial accounting gimmick and cut the length of the patch in half to keep the pressure on to find a long-term fix as soon as possible.

“Today’s votes held some positive signs for the future of our nation’s transportation system,” said James Corless in T4America’s full statement after the vote tonight. “The Senate overwhelmingly rejected a move to dismantle our key infrastructure fund, and instead challenged themselves to take up a long-term funding solution this year.”

The Senate version of the bill stripped out the controversial “pension smoothing” funding gimmick, which Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) described as “generational theft.” In addition, a right-wing amendment to phase out the federal gas tax and leave funding to the states was put aside after it received just 28 votes.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Wash Cycle reports that a new bill has been introduced in DC that would help cyclists win damages for injuries sustained in collisions with motorists. Walkable Dallas Fort Worth says the city’s plan to allow big-box store development near transit is a big fiscal mistake. And Pedestrian Observations discusses some of the idiosyncrasies of planning around high-speed rail stations.