A new transportation bill has made more progress in Congress, as a Senate committee approved a five-year bill that would provide about $190 billion in highway funding through 2009. That five-year amount is in line with the six-year level in the bill the House passed on March 10 and the six-year sum recommended by the Bush administration. But Senate committee members said they felt their bill's funding wasn't adequate, indicating they expected efforts on the floor to add more money to the legislation.

Inhofe favors higher funding, If revenue source is identified (Photo by the Office of Senator James Inhofe)

The measure that the Environment and Public Works Committee cleared on March 16 includes $190.8 billion in highway contract authority over the fiscal 2005-2009 period. Adding 2004's funding of $35.9 billion brings the total to $226.7 billion over six years, the same amount the Bush administration has proposed for highways over the 2004-2009 period. The version the House approved has about $225 billion for roads.

The Senate panel approved the bill on a voice vote, with only Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) dissenting.

After the vote, committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that he is concerned about "donor" states like his own, which pay more in fuel taxes into the Highway Trust Fund than they get back in federal road-building aid. Donor states now are guaranteed a 90.5% return on their trust fund payments, but have been seeking 95% in the new legislation.

Inhofe said under the bill his committee approved, the minimum guarantee would be 92%. "This is not satisfactory with me," Inhofe told reporters. "I think it should be enhanced. But the only way to do that is going to be to increase the number." He adds that "on the floor there will be efforts to do that." Inhofe said he would support an amendment to boost the funding "assuming that we can find the money." It will be up to the Finance Committee to identify sources of additional highway revenue.

The Senate banking committee is scheduled to vote on a multi-year transit authorization on March 17. The highway and transit measures would be joined for Senate floor action, which could come in April.

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