Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta says he hopes to send a plan to Congress soon to ease the impact of the proposed $8.6-billion cut in federal highway aid in fiscal 2003.

Mineta told a Senate banking committee hearing on March 13 that he had a late-night meeting the previous day with officials at the Office of Management and Budget on the highway funding issue. He said, "We are looking to try to mitigate the impact of RABA," the Revenue Aligned Budget Authority provision in the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

That provision adjusts highway funding each year to the level of user-tax revenue that flows into the Highway Trust Fund. Administration officials projected that 2003 tax revenue would be less than originally estimated, resulting in a sharp decline in highway funds for that year. Citing the RABA calculation, the Bush administration 2003 budget requests $23.3 billion for highways. That compares with $31.9 billion in 2002, a figure that reflects a RABA gain of $4.5 billion because of higher-than-estimated user-tax receipts for that year.

The 2003 budget's RABA projection sparked a storm of criticism by governors, industry and in Congress. House and Senate bills have been introduced that would authorize a minimum of $27.7 billion in highway funds, thus restoring at least $4.4 billion of the cut. Each of those measures has picked up strong support: the House version had 265 co-sponsors and the Senate version 65 co-sponsors as of March 11, more than enough to ensure passage.

Until Mineta's comments, the administration publicly was sticking to the budget proposal, though DOT officials had conceded that the Trust Fund balance could accommodate higher spending levels than what was proposed.

Speaking to reporters after he testified, Mineta declined to offer more specifics of the plan under discussion. He did say he hoped to release the plan in "maybe a week."