House bill extends U.S. highway funding, boosts airport funding

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday proposed spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control operations, as well as to extend surface transportation programs.

Earlier this year, Congress agreed to suspend taxes on passenger airline tickets, cargo and fuel for the remainder of 2020. Significantly reduced travel demand because of the coronavirus pandemic and the tax suspension has led to a major shortfall in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

The bill also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year. Congress has struggled for years to find a way to fund highway repairs as gasoline tax revenue has lagged spending. The House bill proposes directing $13.6 billion from the general fund to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Peter DeFazio said “with this one-year extension in place, we can continue work on a long-term, transformational bill.”

Representative Sam Graves, the top Republican on the panel, said the extension provides “immediate, desperately needed certainty to state DOTs and transportation and construction industry workers.”

On June 15, Reuters and Bloomberg News reported that the Trump administration was preparing an infrastructure package of up to $1 trillion focused on transportation projects as part of its push to spur the world’s largest economy back to life.

After weeks of internal debate, the White House opted not to make the plan public ahead of the November presidential election, sources told Reuters.

In July, the House approved a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package to boost spending on roads, bridges, public transit and rail over 10 years – a plan the White House rejected.

Since 2008, Congress has transferred about $141 billion to the Highway Trust Fund, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Congress has not boosted the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax since 1993. That tax is now worth just 10.2 cents after adjusting for inflation.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)