U.S. House approves highway funding extension

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. House on Wednesday approved another short-term extension of the federal highway program that would keep money flowing to the Highway Trust Fund and states for another five to six months.

The vote in the Republican-controlled chamber was 319-112. The Michigan delegation members voting no were Reps. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, and Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said he would rather be voting on a long-term bill than a “patch,” but members need more time to work out a solution.

“I’m hoping between now and the end of the patch in December, we will have a clear plan in place,” Bishop said.

He favors the use of repatriation or taxing the overseas earnings of multinational corporations to help pay for the transportation programs.

“To me, it is a fiscally responsible way of raising revenues without increasing taxes or putting the burden on the backs of taxpayers,” Bishop said.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said the extension brings Congress a step closer to a final agreement. “It provides the House more time to negotiate a multi-year agreement to finance our highway and transit programs,” he said in a statement.

The White House indicated Wednesday that it would back the bill to give Congress the time to complete work on a long-term measure, although the Senate is considering a six-year bill.

Federal funds for highways, bridges and transit make up about half of all spending on infrastructure.

The Highway Trust Fund spent $1.21 billion last year for state and local projects in Michigan. That allocation is 14 percent less than the $1.41 billion Michigan received in 2010, due to declining revenues from the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax.

An estimate 38 percent of Michigan roads are in poor or mediocre condition, according to a 2013 “report card” by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In a letter Tuesday to Michigan Transportation Director Kirk Steudle, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned that when the statutory authority expires July 31, his agency will slow down payments to the states and halt authorizing new road construction contracts involving federal funds.

“I’ve said for months that we need a long-term bill,” Foxx told reporters at a roundtable Wednesday. “Clearly, it is suboptimal for us to go over this cliff in July.”

A half dozen states have put a total $2 billion worth of infrastructure projects on hold due to the uncertainty in federal funding, he said.

The top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin of Royal Oak, joined other House Democrats to introduce a six-year highway bill funded in part by limiting the ability of U.S. multinational corporations to avoid taxes on offshore earnings.

It would raise an estimated $41 billion and would pay for the first two years of the highway program when combined with existing Highway Trust Fund revenues.

“Increasing funding for our nation’s infrastructure by closing a tax loophole that allows corporations to avoid paying their fair share of taxes by moving their headquarters overseas is a true win-win,” Levin said in a statement.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, would like to see the funding level for the trust fund increase because, “if we just approve our current allotment, it’s just a Band-Aid,” she said.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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