Print Page | Contact Us | Sign In | Join
Latest News: Legislative Updates

Congress Works to Reauthorize Highway Trust Fund

Friday, July 18, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lindsey Johnson
Share |

Talks on a new highway bill are gearing up in Congress as the all-encompassing Highway Trust Fund is set to expire August 1. The House passed an $11 billion bill by a vote of 367 to 55 to help keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat until Spring 2015. The Senate has yet to vote on a similar bill, but the White House endorsed the House bill. This particular fund is especially important to recreational boating because it contains the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, necessary for construction and maintenance of access ramps, transient docks and pump-out facilities; funding for boating safety enforcement, equipment purchases and education; funding for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Outreach Program; and funding for fresh- and saltwater fish hatcheries.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) proposed a transfer of almost $20 billion from the general tax fund to help sustain transportation funding and other programs paid for by the Highway Fund until April 2015. The additional funding would provide a bridge allowing 117,000 projects that employ 700,000 workers nationwide to continue throughout the year and give Congress more time to work on reauthorization of the Trust Fund. Without the transfer, federal officials have warned, money for these projects will begin to slow after August 1. But the final House bill used accounting gimmicks, including delaying pension fund payments, applying customs fees and allocating money from a fund used to repair underground fuel storage tanks. Funding for the Sport Fish account also would become tight if Congress fails to act.

Some Senators say that they are nearing agreement on a plan to replenish the Highway Fund. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE) stated a formal bipartisan agreement that may soon be available, but as of yet no details have been made public.

Most State Departments of Natural Resources receive a significant portion of their boating safety funds from the Highway Trust Fund. Congressional pressure is mounting to quickly resolve the impasse and to replenish the fund. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration considered allowing states to collect tolls on interstate highways, which would have reversed a longtime federal prohibition on most interstate tolls. That proposal was DOA on Capitol Hill.

Later, a bipartisan proposal to increase the 18.4 cent-per-gallon federal excise tax on gasoline by varying amounts was considered, but the GOP-controlled House also dismissed that proposal.

The impasse has garnered the attention of state and local governments, where there are concerns about completing construction and maintenance projects.

Even if senators reach an agreement, the ultimate fate of the Highway Trust Fund in the sharply divided House is unclear. With the Highway bill set to expire September 30 and to run out of money August 1, the key Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund also is in jeopardy. Some House members are looking for cuts in other parts of the federal budget to allow for increases in spending on highway projects.

Congress, especially the House, is still wrestling with options for a permanent fix to providing sufficient funds for repairs to deteriorating highway and bridge system. Some lawmakers want to increase the 24.4 cents-per-gallon federal tax on diesel fuel, but Congress remains divided over transportation policy. There is currently no federal excise tax on marine diesel fuel. An excise tax was used to offset the repeal of the luxury tax on boats in the early 1990s, but was later repealed when the Internal Revenue Service had trouble enforcing the color-coded diesel fuel system it set up for marine diesel fuels.

MRAA will continue to monitor this issue and work closely with Congressional leaders to ensure waters are safe, while also being mindful of concerns about increasing taxes on recreational boaters.