$8 billion offsets gasoline tax losses

WASHINGTON — Congress voted last week to rescue the federal highway trust fund, which officials said was on the verge of going broke.

The House voted 376-29 to transfer $8 billion from the Treasury to the highway fund. The Senate approved the transfer by voice vote.

Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Jon Porter and Dean Heller, both R-Nev., voted for the transfer.

The action came after Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced that revenues from gasoline taxes have been lower than expected and the fund would be depleted by the end of the month.

High gasoline prices means people are driving less, she said. The federal tax adds 18.4 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline, in addition to what states levy.

Thousands of road and bridge projects would have faced delays or might have been canceled if the federal fund had run out of money.

Lawmakers tried earlier this summer to tackle the issue. Then, some Republicans and President Bush opposed transferring money from general funds that already are running at deficit.

Some critics said Congress overreached when it passed an ambitious highway construction bill in 2005. Others suggested borrowing highway money from mass transit programs.

Supporters of the transfer pointed out that Congress was simply moving back $8 billion that had been moved from the highway account to the Treasury a decade ago when times were flush.

As the situation became more dire, the Bush administration dropped its objections and supported the bill that passed.

Passage of the highway bill was the main achievement of Congress coming back from its August recess and the national political conventions.

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