A PATH to Nowhere?

After it's first hearing, the PATH Act is not looking very promising to keep federal transportation reimbursements flowing to state DOTs late next month when the Highway Trust Fund is expected to approach insolvency. The one user fee was dropped.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden's PATH Act [PDF] to 'patch' the Highway Trust Fund until a six-year reauthorization bill can pass Congress is off to an inauspicious start. Members agreed to reconvene on July 7, writes Transport Topics staff writer, Eugene Mulero.

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Ranking Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah made their announcement during a highly-anticipated hearing they scheduled to consider a bill that would approve $9 billion to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through the end of December. No votes were taken at the June 26 hearing.

As we noted on June 25, the PATH or 'patch' act had at least two marks against it:

  • Ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) complained it wasn't bipartisan.
  • Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tenn. (not a member, but on the Banking Committee) called it a "gimmick", suggesting lack of Republican buy-in.

A third can now be added: Wyden's "Republican counterpart in the House, (Ways and Means Committee Chairman) Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), recently objected to his proposal."

“There is no way tax hikes to pay for more spending will fly in the House,” Camp said this week, referring to the Senate plan.

Taking an opposite perspective is Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), co-author of a bipartisan fuel tax hike proposal, called the PATH Act a 'gimmick' because it relied primarily on general fund transfers. 

Corker found an ally in Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) who added a gas tax amendment [see pages 17-21 of amendments added at the hearing (PDF)] to the PATH Act, described by The Hill's Keith Laing.

Wyden chose to please Camp, as well as Republicans on the Finance Committee and presumably further irritate Corker. Earlier on June 26, Mulero wrote, "But Wyden pre-empted debate over the (heavy vehicle use) tax in his opening remarks, agreeing to strike the truck tax in exchange for other bipartisan considerations."

While truck drivers will be spared a potential doubling of the truck tax, that's $1 billion more that the Finance Committee will need to find to patch the Trust Fund, and the clock is ticking.

"It’s crunch time on transportation,” Wyden told colleagues, adding that next month, state’s ability to pay for road and transit projects would be put at risk.

Laing saw movement toward a coming together at the hearing, perhaps because Wyden was receptive to the changes requested by Hatch and his fellow Republicans.

Full Story: Senate Panel Drops Truck Tax, Postpones Vote On Trust Fund Bill

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