June 26--WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Bob Casey today threw his support behind a short-term transportation bill to prevent what he called "the transportation equivalent of a government shutdown."
The federal Highway Trust Fund has been dishing out more money to states than it has been receiving in revenue, and is in danger of running dry by mid-July or August.
Casey said the Preserving America's Transit and Highways (PATH) Act proposed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, would at least provide a temporary solution to the slowing or halting of highway and bridge projects nationwide.
"We have the opportunity now to pass legislation that will deal with a substantial challenge for Congress, which is to get transportation legislation done so we don't run into the insolvency of the Trust Fund, which could happen if we don't act," Casey said.
The Democratic senator from Scranton said the trust fund running dry is only part of the problem.
"The more significant problem is what happens to the economy as a result of that," he said.
The PATH Act is a five-part proposal, of which a significant part would raising taxes on heavy trucks. Trucks over 97,000 pounds would pay $1,100 a year; the current cap is $550 for vehicles more than 75,000 pounds.
The measure also tightens reporting requirements for the mortgage interest deduction and toughens the rules for requiring payment of taxes when people under-report income for property sales.
Republicans oppose the measure because it relies solely on new revenues to pay for a short-term fix to financing highway projects. Top panel Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, wants a blend of revenues and spending cuts.
Some have suggested raising the gas tax to address the shortfall, but Casey said he's not wiling to support a gas tax increase "without a longer discussion and engagement, which should be and can be and must be bi-partisan. There are a whole series of other ways to finance a long-term transportation bill."
Casey said he would prefer a longer-term fix, "but I realize the dynamic in Washington is such that we can't get a longer-term agreement now. But it doesn't mean we can't get a shorter term agreement plus begin a bi-partisan process to get a longer-term bill."
Casey said the economy will suffer is a resolution isn't agreed upon soon, and people will begin seeing the effects by mid-July.
"I don't think this is in any way an exaggeration. What we're facing on transportation is a transportation equivalent of a government shutdown. It's that simple and that stark and that disturbing, if folks don't start to surrender some of their predispositions on what should happen next and get this done, get a six-month agreement in place," Casey said.
See Friday's Times Leader for more on this story.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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