Bond Buyer 6/16/15 3:31pm ET By Jim Watts
DALLAS — Senate Democrats challenged Republican lawmakers Tuesday to develop a multiyear transportation funding bill before the latest temporary patch expires at the end of July.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and others sent a letter Tuesday to their Republican colleagues asking that the four Senate committees with jurisdiction over federal transportation funding begin hearings next week and have a bill that includes significant increases in infrastructure investment ready to be voted on by the middle of July.
“We do not want a 34th short-term extension of this program,” Reid said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “We don’t want to do it on our own. We want to sit down with them and negotiate the solution.”
The basis of the next long-term transportation bill should be President Obama’s proposed Grow America Act, Reid said. The $478 billion, six-year transportation proposal would be funded with $238 billion from a mandatory 14% tax on corporate overseas earnings and $240 billion from the federal gasoline and diesel taxes dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund.
The solvency of the HTF, which provides federal reimbursements to states for highway and transit projects, was set to expire May 31 but Congress pushed the deadline back by two months.
Democrats will be reluctant to vote for another extension without some progress on a highway within the next four weeks, said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“The bottom line is we’re asking them to meet our timetable,” Schumer said. “If they don’t meet this timetable, it will be very hard for us to do another short-term extension.”
Schumer said the Democrats will focus on transportation funding over the next six weeks.
“We’re going to keep at this every day and every week,” he said. “This is going to be an issue that we keep coming at again, again, and again
The main tax-writing committees in both chambers are taking up transportation funding this week.
The House Ways and Means Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to look into revenue options, followed Thursday by a Senate Finance Committee hearing on highway revenue.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is putting together a bipartisan. multiyear transportation bill with increased funding, said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on that panel.
Boxer said the committee remains on schedule to vote June 24 on a six-year bill.
“I can report to you that Democrats are meeting with Republicans. Our staff was here late into the night,” she said at Tuesday’s news conference. “We’re negotiating back and forth, and I feel very positive that we will have a six-year bill at a robust level. Now the question is the funding source.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said last week that she wants Congress to pass a highway bill before it takes up contentious trade legislation, but Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Monday that a tax package will take precedence over a transportation measure.
Tax reform being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee is the most likely source of the additional revenue needed to bolster the HTF with six-year bill, Shuster said.
Congress is working on a long-term bill, even though another short-term extension will be needed to resolve the funding debate, he said.
“The American people understand there’s a problem and need to invest and rebuild our transportation system,” Shuster said. “In Washington, both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, everybody’s talking about a long-term bill.”
In other action, The Treasury Department said Monday it will begin compiling information on significant transportation and water infrastructure projects under consideration across the country, with an emphasis on their potential economic impact.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the report is needed because a lack of information about planned projects is hindering greater private investment in public infrastructure.