Following President Trump’s latest signing of a funding measure meant to avoid federal government shutdown, the FAST Act highway law–a bill regulating United States transportation operations–has been extended for another full year.
Within the stopgap appropriations law, which is set to fund the government through mid-December, is a year-long extension of FAST Act, which was originally expiring on September 30th of this year.
The extension brings further temporary funding for transit and highway programs, as well as more time to implement a new highway policy bill, according to transportation policymakers. These lawmakers also claimed they ended up running out of time to properly reauthorize the FAST Act as planned.
“A full one-year extension of highway funding provides states and communities the certainty required to plan for critical road and bridge projects,” said chairman of the committee on highways, Senator John Barrasso.
Barrasso’s committee has a bipartisan plan to update the FAST Act in a timely manner, but republican leaders never took the plan to the Senate floor.
“The extension will give Congress more time to finish a long-term, bipartisan highway bill to rebuild our roads and bridges,” Barrasso explained.
House Democrats spearheaded efforts to pass a more-than-$1 trillion infrastructure package over the summer–a package that included a FAST Act reauthorization plan. The House-passed legislation was not considered by Senate Republicans, although the Senate highway proposals and the House both failed to propose any long-term solutions for the issues arising within the Highway Trust Fund.
The federal highway account uses fuel tax revenue to fund country-wide surface transportation systems, although the current diesel tax of 24.4 cents-per-gallon and the gas tax of 18.4 cents-per-gallon were set 27 years ago.
“With this one-year extension in place, we can continue [working] on a long-term, transformational bill that significantly boosts investment in our surface transportation network and moves our transportation systems into the 21st century,” said House transportation panel chairman, Rep. Peter DeFazio.
President Trump requested support from congress in regards to Barrasso’s highway measure in his State of the Union Address, but the White House has yet to release any comprehensive infrastructure policy plan after opposing the House’s bill proposal.
Additionally, Congress received further pressure to agree on a new highway bill before the September 30th authorization deadline by state agencies, transit operators, freight firms, unions, and members of the construction sector. Stakeholders also endorsed fuel tax increases as a method of bringing in new highway program funding.
“We look forward to working with Congress and committee staff on a reauthorization that will address the challenges facing surface transportation, including the need for a long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund,” said American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials executive director, Jim Tymon.
Laborers’ International Union of North America general president, Terry O’Sullivan, agreed, saying: “The [FAST Act] extension provides some stability for states to continue important transportation infrastructure projects for another year, but unfortunately falls short of the long-term reauthorization that we had hoped for.”
COVID-related emergency assistance has also been a big ask of Congress by important transportation network sector members, with state agencies, transit operators, and airlines requesting multi-billion dollar aid packages. The House has been contemplating a pandemic aid measure of $2 trillion, as compared to the $3 trillion bill passed in the first pandemic relief package. So far, the Senate has not backed the effort.
“[Treasury] Secretary [Steve] Mnuchin and I had an extensive conversation, and we found areas where we are seeking further clarification” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Our conversations will continue.”
The Democrats’ plan has been heavily criticized by Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, as other Senate Republicans are looking for COVID relief aid for the sake of school re-openings, small business relief, and aid for health care providers.
“Speaker Pelosi’s latest offering still does not include a single cent of new money for the [Small Business Administration’s] Paycheck Protection Program, to help small businesses that are going under,” said McConnell. “It does nothing to help schools, universities, doctors, nurses, or employers avoid frivolous lawsuits.”