Wisconsin Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner and Reid Ribble voted no Tuesday, as the U.S. House of Representatives approved emergency funding for transportation projects. The vote was 367-to-55 to approve $11-billion in new money to replenish the fund, which is supported by federal fuel taxes and is running on fumes. The federal tax on gasoline and diesel has not been increased in 20 years. Failure to find a funding solution could mean money for as many as 117,000 projects around the U.S. could start drying up at the end of July.
“The possible solutions to this problem are clear and present, yet Congress won’t act to make the tough decisions needed,” said Ribble, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I could not in good conscience support this ‘punt’ that sets up another manufactured crisis in a few months instead of fixing this problem once and for all.”
The bill would transfer almost ten-billion dollars from the federal government’s general fund, plus a billion from another trust fund. The general fund transfers would be paid for with higher customs’ fees, and a pension “smoothing” process that critics call “smoke and mirrors.” The Senate is working on its own package which would tap into a host of other federal pots of money as well.
Wisconsin Republican Tom Petri voted for the measure, but conceded that a long-term solution is necessary. “We need to stop the patches and budget gimmicks and come up with a viable, real solution on how we fund the Trust Fund,” Petri said.
Wisconsin Democrats voted for the measure. “I am disappointed Congress did not find a longer-lasting solution to reform the Highway Trust Fund and meet the obligation of funding the federal share of transit projects,” said Representative Mark Pocan. “Federal inaction and short-term patches hinder needed transportation and infrastructure investments, and increase the uncertainty and costs for state and local governments.”
A similar bill is pending in the Senate. Without congressional action, the Transportation Department says that by the first week in August the fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid to states, and the government will begin to stretch out payments.