House Transportation
Chairman Young (Office of Rep. Don Young)

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) and other leaders of the panel have recommended a $375-billion plan for the next, six-year surface transportation bill, an increase of more than 70% over the funding provided in the1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

In testimony at a March 6 House Budget Committee hearing, Young and Oberstar asked that the next budget resolution include $50 billion in fiscal 2004 and $375 billion through 2009 to cover the surface transportation legislation. To raise the additional revenue, Young said that "the revenue mechanisms that fund the Highway Trust Fund must be adjusted," but didn't provide specific recommendations.

Industry and congressional sources, however, say that the transportation committee is looking at a package with several elements:

--indexing the federal motor fuels taxes for inflation, both retroactively to 1993 and prospectively. That retroactive indexing would result in an initial fuels tax increase of slightly more then 5 cents per gallon, sources say.

--drawing down the balance in the Highway Trust fund

--returning to the trust fund the interest accrued on its balance

--reimbursing the trust fund for revenue it loses because of the 5.2-cent-per-gallon difference between the tax on gasohol and gasoline

--doing away with fuels tax evasion

Peter Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, praised the House transportation committee's plan as "a bold move that shows real political courage and leadership."

The lawmakers didn't disclose how much of the $375 billion would go to highways and how much to mass transit, but one source says that roads' share would rise from $40 billion in 2004 to $60 billion in 2009, while transit's would increase from about $8 billion in 2004 to $15 billion in 2009. Another source, however, says the committee hasn't agreed on a highway-transit funding split.

Young told the Budget Committee his recommended funding level is based on U.S. Dept. of Transportation estimates of aid needed to improve the road systems condition and performance. He says DOT estimates federal spending needs to be $74.8 billion per year to make those improvements. David Bauer, ARTBA vice president for government relations, says, "What the T & I Committee is proposing is for the first time to link federal investment decisions with what the federal assessments of the systems' needs are....This is truly an evolution from TEA-21."

Peter Loughlin, the Associated General Contractors' senior director for congressional relations, says the committee leader's plan "is a bold initiative that's prudent in its use of focusing on growing the programs through indexing and keeping pace with inflation, keeping the focus on not allowing the trust fund to erode."