Heavy Duty Trucking

NOV 2014

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12 HDT • NOVEMBER 2014 www.truckinginfo.com Slim chance for a highway bill this year WASHINGTON Oliver B. Patton Washington Editor N report W hile some in the Senate continue to press for ac- tion on a highway bill this year, the conventional wisdom is that Congress will postpone the issue. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is a staunch advocate for passing a bill in the next two months. "The longer we wait to find a long-term funding solution for our critical infrastructure, the worse it will be," Boxer wrote in an October 9 letter to Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Boxer and others are pushing for a decision before the new Congress takes office next year. Camp, whose leader- ship is critical to any action on highway funding, is retiring from Congress at the end of this year. If Congress does not act in 2014, the funding decision will be postponed at least until next May, when the current Highway Trust Fund short-term patch expires. "The Highway Trust Fund is a problem that can be solved, and this Congress must uphold its responsibility to come up with a sustainable funding solution," Boxer said. "We cannot afford to wait for action until the deadline which falls at the beginning of the critical summer construc- tion season, or to kick the can down the road any longer." Boxer has discussed a range of funding options. Among them are replacing the per-gallon fuel tax with a sales tax on the wholesale price of fuel, raising and indexing the per-gallon fuel tax to inflation, or taking revenue out corporate tax reform. She is joined in her effort by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who says that after the November 4 elections there will be a cadre of Senators who could "do the right thing" and vote for a long-term funding measure. In Carper's calculations, after the election there will be eight or nine Senators who won't run again, plus a similar number whose terms are up in 2016 who also won't run. On top of that will be another eight or nine up for election in 2018 in a similar status. "So what you have here is roughly a quarter of the U.S. Senate who are free agents," he said. "They may be willing to do the right thing because they don't have to worry about repercussions from the electorate." The right thing, Carper says, is to pass a multi-year highway bill funded by an increase in federal fuel taxes. But the more likely outcome is delay. Former Trans- portation Secretary James Burnley said Republicans in the House are overwhelmingly opposed to raising fuel taxes and there is no political consensus on an alternative. And if the outcome of the election is Republican control of the Senate, which pollsters say is likely, the path of least resis- tance will be defer the tough vote to the new members. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, indicated inter- est in the issue recently when he said that a highway bill can be done in the next two years. In a conversation with host George Stephanopoulos of ABC's This Week, Boehner said that both he and President Obama came to Washing- ton to get something done rather than butt heads. "And it's up to us to see where the common ground is. But tax reform, a big highway bill, certainly are in the realm of doable," he said. The implication was that Boehner does not expect Congress to act during the lame duck session, and he did not mention funding. But his belief that tax reform is "do- able" signals a possible solution. Both the Obama administration and Camp of Ways and Means have suggested using tax reform to generate one-time funds for a multi-year highway program. While their propos- als are alike in concept they are significantly different in detail. Obama focuses on corporate taxes, proposing to low- ering the rate from 35-28%, and to 25% for manufacturers. He would pay for the change by eliminating tax loopholes and creating incentives to bring business back from overseas. This would yield $150 billion for a highway bill. Camp proposed broader reform of the entire tax system, creating a new individual tax structure by collapsing the current complex system into two brackets: 10% and 25%, depending on income. It would also lower the corporate rate to 25%. This would yield $126.2 billion for highways. The possibility of reconciling these differences is com- plicated by Camp's scheduled departure from the Ways and Means chair at the end of this year. It remains to be seen if his successor will support the same approach. ■ Sen. Barbara Boxer recently addressed highway bill con- cerns at a press conference in her home state.

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