Can anything spur Congress to overhaul a federal transportation policy that lets states run amok building highway expansions while the rest of our infrastructure goes to seed? Don’t hold your breath — the cycle of extending the status quo transportation bill is starting all over again.
Last Monday, the Obama Administration began warning state departments of transportation that their funding could be cut off if lawmakers do not reach an agreement by month’s end.
On Wednesday, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-California) and James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) announced that they would be presenting a six-year transportation bill, but that discussions wouldn’t even begin until after the May 31 deadline. “We can no longer wait on Congress,” said the senators in a joint statement, as though they are somehow separate from Congress. (During the nine months since the last short-term extension, Boxer and Inhofe, along with everyone else in Congress, never got around to introducing a long-term transportation bill.)
Now there’s only two weeks left until that extension expires. So late Friday, House Republicans announced that they would put forward another short-term extension of the current transportation bill, giving Congress through the end of July to come up with a long-term plan.
What has Congress been up to in the past nine months? Well, they haven’t been figuring out how to get state DOTs to stop wasting billions of dollars on highway expansions. Instead, lawmakers devoted most of their energy to coming up with ridiculous new ways to raise revenue without raising the gas tax.
And they couldn’t even agree on something. So House lawmakers instead settled for having the extension expire soon enough to avoid having to enact a source of additional revenue.
As for the Senate, Boxer has said she grudgingly backs a plan from Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to generate revenue with a temporary tax holiday on overseas business profits — an idea with so many problems it’s worse than just bailing out the transportation program with general fund revenues.
Speaking of which, as the size of those bailouts keeps getting bigger, so does the subsidy for roads. The way things stand, the nation’s transportation program will need an infusion of $10 billion to cover current spending levels through the end of the year without raising the gas tax.