MAP-21, signed by President Barak Obama on July 6, 2012, expires on September 30. Unlike that two-year bill that funded only two years (transportation reauthorization bills are customarily six years), this bi-partisan bill, the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act (S. 2322), will cover six years, going through 2020, an ambitious task considering the Highway Trust Fund shortfall, the difference between fuel tax receipts and Trust Fund expenditures, is estimated at $50 billion a year as of 2015.
"The bill doesn’t address the central issue of how to fund projects, a matter being left until later for congressional tax-writers. Differences over how to do that threatens Sen. Barbara Boxer's proposal," writes Laura Litvan. Sen. Boxer (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), is credited for being the primary author of the bill, just as she was five years ago for the current law.
Keeping the funding level the same (though adjusted for inflation) for the next six years as it did for the first two did not please Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, according to The Hill's Keith Laing.
"I just spent the better part of a week going to eight states, 12 cities large and small. And I have to tell you that America has been waiting on a bigger solution," Foxx said when he was asked if the Obama administration could accept the Senate's proposed funding levels.
Considering that Congress has yet to determine how to fund the $20 billion Trust Fund shortfall, asking for an additional $25 billion makes their task that much more difficult.
Foxx has said that "he is receptive to the idea of tolling our existing Interstate highways," as we noted last month, and which Obama's "Grow America" proposal included, though most of the shortfall is based on revenues expected from questionable corporate tax reform.
MAP-21 made up the shortfall by relying on many revenue mechanisms unrelated to user fees. The result was a series of General Fund transfers to the Highway Account, the most recent being a "$9.7 billion transfer...processed shortly after the start of the fiscal year," according to the Highway Trust Fund Ticker.
"Boxer said last week that the upper chamber's bill would be enough to prevent a bankruptcy in the trust fund that is used to pay for federal road and transit projects that has been projected to occur at the end of this summer, even if it does not satisfy the Obama administration," Laing writes.
AASHTO's press release expressed gratitude to the Senators, particularly Boxer and Ranking Member of the committee, Senator David Vitter (R-La.) for "addressing the looming Highway Trust Fund crisis. Current projections show the Trust Fund could reach levels that slow and halt reimbursements to state DOTs within a matter of weeks," said Bud Wright, AASHTO executive director.
Litvan adds that "House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, has yet to advance a companion proposal in that chamber."