WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives approved $11 billion in funding for the Highway Trust Fund last week. The Senate is expected to take up proposals to shore up the fund before the end of the month, then the two bodies would need to come to an agreement before the August recess.
Congress must resolve the issue quickly in order to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from running out of money during the road construction season. Vermont would be faced with putting 38 projects worth about $100 million on hold indefinitely if the fund is not replenished. Projects now underway would also be delayed because the federal government would stall reimbursements for construction payments. About 1,000 workers in Vermont would be affected by the shortfall.
The House proposal relies on a complicated, indirect source of revenue for the fund. In addition, the plan does not generate enough money to keep the fund solvent. The Highway Trust Fund would go bankrupt in April or May of next year - five months before the end of the federal fiscal year.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., the state's lone congressman, was one of 10 Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted against the "pension-smoothing" plan that will generate temporary corporate revenues for national road maintenance and construction.
Welch said at a press conference in Waterbury last week that the Republicans' plan is a "very temporary quote fix" that would only keep the fund solvent through April or May of next year, and would come from a dubious source, namely a "pension smoothing" proposal that would allow corporations to reduce the amount of money they pay into employee pension funds.
The plan is not sustainable, Welch says, and it would hurt workers.
Welch said he would vote for a hike in the national gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993. The current per gallon tax is 18.4 cents.