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Senators Promote Bipartisan, 6-Year Highways Bill

Fri., Sept. 12, 1997

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled a six-year, $145 billion proposal Thursday for reshaping the chief federal highway programs. Unlike the costlier House version, Senate sponsors said, their plan heeds the budget-balancing deal.

Even so, the Senate bill - written by leaders of the Environment and Public Works Committee - is not without its own controversy.

Although its authors said the measure dispensed money fairly, two big-state senators on the committee were notably absent as sponsors: Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

“The Senate now has a comprehensive, six-year, consensus bill to reauthorize the national highway program,” said Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., the committee chairman.

Like the House bill, the Senate measure would shift additional spending to Southern and Western states, whose populations have grown in recent years. In an effort to keep all states happy, the bill guarantees that each will receive road-building money equal to at least 90 percent of the funds its motorists pay to the federal government in the form of gasoline taxes.

Overall, the measure contains 20 percent more spending than was provided under the current highway program, which expires Sept. 30. But because the bill would change the formulas under which much of the money is distributed to states, some lawmakers were unhappy.

“Other than anger, rage, disgust, I like it,” Lautenberg said. “I thought New Jersey got shortchanged.”

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