Washington’s latest partisan logjam could shut down the federal highway improvement program as roads and bridges crumble, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., warned today.
With prospects of a long-term solution dimming, Sen. Casey is throwing his support behind s the PATH Act, Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden’s Band-Aid approach that staves off trouble for six months.
The Oregon Democrat’s Preserving America’s Transit and Highway’s Act would prevent insolvency by providing the Highway Trust Fund with a $9 billion infusion funded by tax hikes.
Republicans on the Finance Committee aren’t satisfied with Wyden’s plan, funded by tax changes. The committee adjourned for a weeklong recess without voting.
Meanwhile, the highway fund has been limping along with a series of short-term fixes enacted over the last several years including an 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax that will expire Sept. 30 without reauthorization.
Mr. Wyden proposed a six-month fix. He offered a menu of pay-fors including measures aimed at getting tax scofflaws to pay up. One measure would revoke passports for delinquent payers and another would require banks to provide additional mortgage information to the Internal Revenue Service, which would help the agency improve tax compliance.
“Getting a long-term transportation bill has to be a central focus,” Mr. Casey said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t get a short-term agreement done.”
Doing nothing isn’t an option, said Mr. Casey, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
“What we’re facing on transportation is the transportation equivalent of a government shutdown. It’s that simple. It is that stark and disturbing,” he said.
Lawmakers including House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Blair, have said they would consider hiking the gas tax as part of a long-term solution, but Mr. Casey wants to look at other options first.
“We’re going to have a lot of proposals and I’m not willing to support a gas tax without a longer discussion and engagement,” he said. “There are a whole series of other ways to finance a long-term transportation bill.”