Senate Approves $8 Billion Plan for Highway Trust Fund

Plans for a short-term replenishment of a federal fund for highway and mass-transit projects moved a step forward as the U.S. Senate passed legislation that would largely concede to a competing House version.

The 79-18 final vote late yesterday on an $8 billion proposal by Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Barbara Boxer of California, both Democrats, provides enough money for the Highway Trust Fund until Dec. 19. It rivals a House-passed measure that provides $11 billion through May.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both said that the House-passed bill drafted by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp will likely be the version sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

“I think the likelihood is that the Camp bill has got to be the final bill,” Hatch said. “I can live with that.”

The existing two-year law authorizing about $50 billion a year in highway and transit programs expires on Sept. 30.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had said that without an agreement in Congress, federal payments to states would begin to slow as early as Aug. 1 as the current methods for financing, namely gasoline and diesel-fuel taxes, haven’t kept up with the pace of new projects.

Long-Term Plan

While the legislation ensures federal funds continue to flow to states for a few more months, it delays the more contentious debate over long-term financing for infrastructure needs. Companies including United Parcel Service Inc. and groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and the AFL-CIO have been pushing to lock in funding for as many as six years.

“To get to a long-term plan, what’s needed first is a short-term path so that you do not have the transportation equivalent of a government shutdown,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said during debate on the funding.

The White House earlier this month urged support for the House bill drafted by Camp. The short-term measure is financed by higher customs fees, letting companies delay contributions to employee pension plans, and transferring money from a leaking underground storage tank fund.

(An earlier version of this story was corrected because the legislation listed had been swapped out for a similar proposal by a different senator.)

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