H.R. 3819, Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015

H.R. 3819

Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015

Date
October 27, 2015 (114th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, October 27, 2015, the House will consider H.R. 3819, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2015, under suspension of the rules.  H.R. 3819 was introduced on October 23, 2015 by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), and was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and in addition, to the Committees on: Energy and Commerce; Ways and Means; Natural Resources; and, Science, Space, and Technology.

Bill Summary

H.R. 3819 extends the programmatic and expenditure authority of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) through November 20, 2015.  The bill also authorizes appropriations for Federal-aid highway, highway safety, and public transportation programs at the levels currently authorized, providing a proportional amount of authorized contract and budget authority for the period of the extension. The bill subjects funding for these programs generally to the same manner of distribution, administration, limitation, and availability for obligation. Because the HTF currently has sufficient resources to fund its obligations through the period of the extension, a transfer of funds from Treasury’s General Fund is not required.

The bill also extends from December 31, 2015, to December 31, 2018, a deadline for U.S. railroads to fully implement Positive Train Control (PTC) technology, requires railroads to submit revised plans containing certain information regarding their implementation of PTC, and establishes a process by which the Secretary of the Department of Transportation will review and approve such implementation plans.

Background

Highway Trust Fund

Under current law, the federal government levies an excise tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel fuel.[1]  Federal motor fuels excise tax collections are credited to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), with the exception of 0.1 cent per-gallon of the fuel taxes deposited in the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund.[2]   The HTF, the primary federal fund for surface transportation, is divided into two accounts: the highway account, and the mass transit account.[3]

Fuel taxes have historically provided approximately 90 percent of the receipts to the HTF.[4]  In recent years, tax collections have not kept pace with spending on federally-funded transportation projects due to the effect of inflation on both project costs and the real value of non-indexed tax rates; reductions in vehicle miles travelled; and improved corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.[5]  These developments have imperiled the sustainability of the Fund.

In 2012, President Obama signed into law H.R. 4348 (Public Law 112-141), the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21.  MAP-21 authorized Federal surface transportation programs through September 30, 2014 and tax collection authority through September 30, 2016. To offset the cost of reauthorization, the bill transferred $18.8 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 from Treasury’s General Fund to the HTF, and $2.4 billion from the LUST Trust Fund to the HTF.

In the 113th Congress, the House passed legislation (H.R. 5021) that extended the programmatic authority and expenditure authority of the HTF through May 31, 2015.  Additionally, H.R. 5021 transferred $7.8 billion from Treasury’s General Fund to the Highway Account of the HTF and $2 billion to its Mass Transit Account.  H.R. 5021 also transferred $1 billion in gas-tax-funded monies in the LUST Trust Fund to the HTF.  The House approved H.R. 5021 by a vote of 367 to 55 on July 15, 2014.  The bill was enacted into law on August 8, 2014. (Public Law 113-159).

In the 114th Congress, the House passed H.R. 2353, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, by a vote of 387 to 35 on May 19, 2015.  The bill, which extended the programmatic and expenditure authority of the HTF through July 31, 2015, was signed into law on May 29, 2015. (Public Law 114-21).  The bill did not transfer any money from Treasury’s General Fund because the HTF had sufficient resources to fund its obligations through that period.

On July 15, 2015, the House passed H.R. 3038, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, Part II, by a vote of 312 to 119.  The bill would extend the programmatic and expenditure authority of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) through December 18, 2015, and transfer approximately $6.1 billion from Treasury’s General Fund to the HTF’s Highway Account and $2 billion to its Mass Transit Account.  To date, the Senate has not acted on H.R. 3038.

However, on July 29, 2015, the House passed H.R. 3236, the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015, by a vote of 385 to 34.  The bill, which became law on July 31, 2015, extended the programmatic and expenditure authority of the HTF through October 29, 2015.  The law transferred approximately $6.1 billion from Treasury’s General Fund to the HTF’s Highway Account and $2 billion to its Mass Transit Account.

Since 2008, Congress has prevented projected HTF shortfalls by transferring approximately $71 billion from Treasury’s General Fund to the HTF.[6]  According to CBO, during fiscal year 2016, “revenues credited to the highway and transit accounts of the Highway Trust Fund will be insufficient to meet the fund’s obligations.”[7] CBO projects that, under current law, “the highway account will have a shortfall of $1 billion in 2016; by 2025, the cumulative shortfall will grow to $108 billion.”[8] CBO also estimates that “the transit account will have a shortfall of less than $1 billion in 2016, growing to a cumulative shortfall of $40 billion by 2025.”[9]

Positive Train Control

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (Public Law 108-432) “mandated positive train control (PTC) on many passenger and freight railroads by December 31, 2015.”[10]  The law did not describe PTC in technical terms, but defines it as “a risk mitigation system that could prevent train incidents by automatically stopping trains when a collision or derailment is imminent.”[11]

Although PTC promises benefits in terms of safety, “its implementation entails substantial costs and presents a variety of other policy-related issues. These include the interoperability of individual railroads’ systems, access to sufficient radio spectrum to support PTC, and the possibility that PTC could be a barrier to market entry.”[12]  Both freight and commuter railroads have raised concerns about their ability to meet the deadline imposed by Congress.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported that most U.S. railroads will not be able to meet the December 31, 2015, deadline because of numerous challenges, including delays in approval of safety plans by federal regulators and the complex challenges of achieving interoperability among various types of PTC systems.[13]

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[1] See CRS Report—“The Federal Excise Tax on Motor Fuels and the Highway Trust Fund:  Current Law and Legislative History,” June 12, 2015 at 1.
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] U.S. Government Accountability Office, Highway Trust Fund: Options for Improving Sustainability and Mechanisms to Manage Solvency, GAO-09-845T, June 25, 2009, p. 4, at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09845t.pdf ; and CRS Report R42877, Funding and Financing Highways and Public Transportation, by Robert S. Kirk and William J. Mallett.
[5] See CRS Report at 2.
[6] See CRS Report—“The Federal Excise Tax on Motor Fuels and the Highway Trust Fund: Current Law and Legislative History,” August 12, 2015 at 5.
[7] See CBO—“Estimates of the Status of the Highway Trust Fund Based on CBO’s August 2015 Baseline,” October 21, 2015.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] See CRS Report—“Positive Train Control (PTC): Overview and Policy Issues,” February 2, 2015, at 1.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] See GAO Report—“Positive Train Control:  Additional Oversight Needed as Most Railroads Do Not Expect to Meet 2015 Implementation Date,” September 16, 2015.

Cost

A cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is currently unavailable.

Additional Information

For questions or further information please contact Jerry White with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 5-0190.