The hard-fought U.S. surface transportation bill is now law — with some of its reforms still to kick in — but chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), has already started work on the next one.
In an interview with POLITICO from the Democratic National Convention, Boxer said she is working on how to shore up the Highway Trust Fund in a way that can draw support from Democrats and Republicans alike.
“My goal is to find a dependable funding source and to work in a bipartisan way to find that funding source. I really believe that the Highway Trust Fund should be funded through user fees,” she said when asked about the next bill.
Revenues into the fund have dipped in recent years — at the same time that construction prices have climbed — leading to major shortfalls ahead. Both the highway and transit accounts are set to run dry soon after the bill expires at the end of September 2014.
And amid opposition to a gas tax increase and general fund transfers over the past few years, the user-pays concept — the basis of highway construction for decades after the 1956 act that created the Interstate Highway System — has slowly eroded. Plugging that shortfall is politically difficult, prompting Boxer to start work well ahead of time.
One way to raise more money, which Republican Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Mike Enzi (Wyo.) have publically said they would be open to, is indexing the gas tax to inflation. The 18.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax has not changed in nearly 20 years. Boxer has supported indexing in the past.
As the debates about transportation financing continue, Boxer hinted that more ideas might be on the table in the months to come. “There are lots of other ideas out there that I’m going to talk about at a later time,” she said.