House Passes Highway Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted 363-64 to pass a six-year, nearly $325 billion highway and transit bill after a contentious vetting of proposed amendments and an intense debate about federal gas taxes. The measure must now be reconciled with the Senate version of the bill.

The Surface Transportation Reauthorization & Reform Act (STRRA) calls for spending $261 billion on highways and $55 billion on transit over six years. The legislation authorizes highway funding for six years, but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years.

The Highway Trust Fund provides most of the program’s funding based on a gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon set in 1993. The fund hasn’t kept pace with construction demands against inflation and because cars are using less fuel. Democrats had urged an increase in the gas tax or other user fees, to allow more highway and bridge construction. But the Republican-controlled Rules Committee blocked consideration of those proposals.

To bolster more construction, the House legislation included Senate provisions including $17 billion from the Federal Reserve System paying banks smaller dividends, a $9 billion sale from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and $5 billion more from the Internal Revenue Service contacting with private entities for tax collection.

In another provision, the 600-page legislation would also revive the Export-Import Bank, which arranges loans for foreign buyers of U.S. products.

“America has waited a decade for Congress to pass a serious and long-term investment in our nation’s infrastructure, and we are glad this day has finally come after 35 short-term funding extensions,” said Michael W. Johnson, National Stone, Sand and Grave Association (NSSGA) president and CEO. “Our industry produces the raw materials needed to build and improve our country’s road and bridges, and we are ready to get to work.”

NSSGA has worked tenaciously to push the House to act, especially after the U.S. Senate passed the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy (DRIVE) Act on July 30, including arranging meetings with legislators and stakeholders, writing letters, making calls, holding fly-ins, activating grassroots and leading activities as part of the Highway Materials Group.

“This bill improves our infrastructure making it safer for our families and it spur economic growth by creating jobs for hard working Americans,” said Johnson. “Today’s historic action would not have been possible without the grassroots support of our members. We are glad to see that the message was received by Congress loud and clear, and today, Congress stood up for America’s infrastructure.”

A conference committee, consisting of House and Senate members and chaired by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) will merge the House and Senate bills into one that both chambers must pass. Johnson said that the House and Senate should immediately appoint the committee members, as there are several policy differences that must be reconciled before the President can sign it into law. The current authorization for surface transportation projects expires on Nov. 20.

“We at NSSGA pledge to keep working with Congress until a long-term surface transportation reauthorization is signed into law,” Johnson said, “and we urge our aggregates industry grassroots volunteers to continue to join us in this effort.”

“This bill is absolutely critical to America and our economy,” said Shuster. “Transportation, in particular our surface transportation system, has a direct impact on our day-to-day quality of life. It affects how we get to work, how we get our kids home from school, and how much time we can spend with our families and friends instead of sitting in traffic. Transportation allows our country and our businesses to be competitive.”

The Portland Cement Association (PCA) also applauded the House bill.

“As the backbone of the U.S. economy, infrastructure should always be a top priority for our federal government,” said James G. Toscas, president and CEO of PCA. “Thanks go to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio for recognizing this, and for their bipartisan leadership in passing this bill.”

PCA has persistently advocated a robust highway bill to address our deteriorating roads and bridges and to provide America with the transportation system it needs and deserves.

Dennis Slater, president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), issued the following statement following House passage of the STRR Act, a long-term highway bill, on Thursday:

“Equipment manufacturers applaud the House for passing The STRR Act, a long-term highway bill that will spur investments to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. This legislation is a worthwhile effort by House leaders to fulfill their pledge to pass a long-term highway bill this fall. Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio deserve particular credit for shepherding the STRR Act through the House after months of behind-the-scenes efforts to build support for this important legislation. It’s also a testament to Speaker Ryan that the first major victory of his speakership is a bill that emerged through regular order that will also end a pattern of funding the Highway Trust Fund from deadline to deadline. The many other lawmakers who fought this year to educate colleagues on the harm of stopgap measures and who put forth innovative plans to end the trust fund’s chronic shortfall were similarly instrumental in today’s victory.

“The STRR Act is doubly important because, like the DRIVE Act in the Senate, it would also provide long-term reauthorization for the Export-Import Bank of the United States,” Salter said. “The Ex-Im Bank is a vital tool to help equipment manufacturers stay globally competitive and sell more of their products abroad. Congress is now on the cusp of a major victory for American manufacturing. AEM will work tirelessly in the coming weeks to urge House and Senate leaders to expeditiously reconcile the differences between their two bills.”

Not everyone was happy with the bill. American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Pete Ruane issued the following statement:

“The U.S. House of Representatives accomplished something today that it has not done in a decade: passage of a highway and transit bill that is more than two years in duration. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio deserve enormous credit for making it happen and in such a bipartisan manner.

“The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act helps end the eight-year cycle of short-term funding patches. It contains important provisions that renew focus on roadway infrastructure safety, improve the speed and efficiency in which projects are completed, and increase transparency in how the public’s tax dollars are invested.

“The bill, however, does not provide close to the investment levels the federal government says are necessary to maintain, let alone, improve conditions on the nation’s highways, bridges and transit systems. And it does not include a long-term revenue solution for the beleaguered Highway Trust Fund.

“We urge members of the House and Senate to increase the investment levels in the final proposal that emerges from the conference committee. Absent a permanent Highway Trust Fund fix, the measure should also establish a bicameral, congressional task force with deadlines and consequences for Congress to finally develop a long-term plan to stabilize highway and public transit funding. Only then will America be able to begin building an infrastructure network that drives economic growth and boosts competitiveness in a 21st century global marketplace.”

The Group Transportation for America said the bill leaves cities and innovation behind.

“The bill does not award more dollars competitively to the best projects on the merits, increase accountability or transparency for taxpayer dollars, or provide greater flexibility for states and metro areas to invest in whatever transportation solutions can bring the greatest benefits,” the group said in a statement. “It slashes innovative low-cost financing and refuses to let transit-oriented development projects apply for those loans. In a bill where all programs increase in funding, the program that local communities can invest in making biking and walking safer and more convenient fails to increase over the life of the bill.

“Most alarmingly, the House bill fails to give cities, towns and local communities of all sizes greater access to and control over federal transportation dollars,” the group said. “Instead, this bill sends yet more control and funding to unelected state bureaucrats, doubling down on a broken process that local voters overwhelmingly believe chooses projects based on politics, not need.”

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