Ryan working on $10B highway funding patch

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says congressional leaders are working on a short-term $10 billion proposal to fund highway repairs through the end of the year — but won't consider a gas tax hike.

The current stop-gap highway measure expires at the end of the month. Ryan, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday that he is working with Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, the ranking member of the committee, along with Senate Finance chair Orrin Hatch. R-Utah, and ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

“We are running numbers,” Ryan said, saying the talks are at an early stage “to figure out the short-term patch.” He said Congress doesn’t need to extend for the end of the year for tax reasons but in order for states to do better road repair planning. “We have to come up with $10 billion,” Ryan said. “We’re not going to raise gas taxes.”

Congressional leaders and the Obama administration have talked about using corporate tax reform proceeds to fund additional highway repairs.

On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said he would support a short-term extension if it helped reach a long-term deal. Ryan said Thursday he agrees with the Obama administration that Congress should work toward a six-year highway bill. Foxx said he is disappointed Congress hasn’t done more.

In February, the Obama administration unveiled a $478 billion, six-year surface transportation bill. Over the last six years, Congress has approved 32 short-term funding patches, adding more than $60 billion to the highway trust fund that has traditionally been funded with gas taxes.

The administration wants to hike highway spending by 29 percent over the period to $317 billion and hike mass transit spending 76 percent to $116 billion for projects like light rail, street cars, and bus rapid transit. It would also spend $29 billion to fund the development of high-performance rail and other passenger rail programs as part of an integrated national transportation strategy.

Foxx noted as the American population grows — predicted to add 70 million people in the next 30 years — and concentrates in cities, the country will have to grapple with more traffic jams. The report warns by 2045, there will be about 81 million Americans older than 65 making up 21 percent of the population — about twice as many older Americans as there are today. As more are no longer able to drive it raises questions about if adequate mass transit systems will be in place.