Republican members of Senate Finance Committee present ideas for filling US$12B gap anticipated in next surface transportation authorization bill; ideas include expanded oil, gas drilling, and reclaiming previously diverted money from Highway Trust Fund

GRAIN VALLEY, Missouri , December 9, 2011 () – Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee have come forward with ideas for filling a $12 billion gap anticipated in the next surface transportation authorization bill. Expanded oil and gas drilling are part of the package, as is recapturing money for the Highway Trust Fund that was previously diverted to other uses.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, and six others wrote to Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, on Friday, Dec. 2, urging him to consider their options as committee members work on their draft of the finance portion of the bill.

“Though we have serious concerns as to the accuracy of the current estimates of HTF revenues and outlays, we believe it is in the best interest of the nation for states to be provided the certainty guaranteed by a surface transportation reauthorization bill,” Hatch and the others wrote.

“In addition, we think it would be a mistake to raise fuel or other taxes given the fragile economic climate the country is currently afflicted with.”

The Republican offer includes reclaiming $3.5 billion from the Advanced Technology Manufacturing Loan Program; transferring up to $3 billion from the Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund; reclaiming $250 million per year from the Land and Water Conservation Fund; expanding oil and gas exploration in Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf to raise up to $5.2 billion; and make up the balance by reclaiming unspent federal funds.

The letter is signed by Hatch along with Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Thune of South Carolina.

Finance Committee Democrats have yet to unveil their ideas for funding the bill. Once the financing plan emerges from committee, it will be added to the two-year transportation authorization bill that recently passed in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Other Senate committees will add provisions to the bill as it moves along.

The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, will add motor-carrier safety programs and other provisions to the bill. That committee has a markup for its proposal planned for Wednesday, Dec. 14. Details of the safety provisions are still under wraps.

On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee continues to work on its version of the transportation bill, most likely a five-year proposal. Funding continues to be a sticking point in the House version.

House and Senate leaders must eventually agree on final language before a transportation bill can be sent to the president’s desk for signature.

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