Sen. Corker Calls His Party’s Highway Fund Fix ‘Political Cowardice’

This highway is in Germany, but highways in the U.S. are facing a potential crisis: The trust that finances many of them, along with bridges and mass transit projects, is set to run out of money by Aug. 1 if Congress doesn't figure out a way to fund it. Credit: Randolf Rautenberg via Flickr

This highway is in Germany, but highways in the U.S. are facing a potential crisis: The trust that finances many of them, along with bridges and mass transit projects, is set to run out of money by Aug. 1 if Congress doesn’t figure out a way to fund it. Credit: Randolf Rautenberg via Flickr

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is not happy with some of his Republican colleagues in Congress. The House Ways and Means Committee unveiled a plan Tuesday to provide federal funding for highways, but Corker says that it’s a terrible fix to a longterm problem.

Right now, an 18.4-cent gas tax pays for $50 billion of transportation projects each year, like highways, bridges and mass transit. But lawmakers warn that the Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money Aug. 1, and federal money would officially stop funding it Sept. 30.

Republican leaders in the House came up with an unusual way to finance the trust fund with $10 billion, which would keep it solvent until next May. Most of the money comes from something called “pension smoothing”: The government would allow employers to delay contributions to pension plans, which would temporarily increase corporate taxes. The rest of the money would come from extra customs fees.

But Corker promptly blasted the proposal.

“This is political cowardice. This is politicians keeping themselves in office, throwing future generations under the bus. I think it’s an embarrassment to our country.”

Rep. Dianne Black (R-Tenn.) didn’t commend the House committee proposal either — although her words were more reserved. “None of those are good options,” she said. “Let’s just say that. If someone else comes in with a better option, I want to hear.”

Last month, Corker and a Democratic senator from Connecticut proposed raising the gas tax by 12 cents over two years, saying that it hadn’t been raised in two decades and needed to keep up with inflation. On Wednesday, Corker said he doesn’t care whether Congress take his suggestion, as long as lawmakers find a longer-term solution than the one they’re proposing now.

Other solutions, he said, might include adding a barrel tax, reducing spending or delegating funding to the states.

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