Senate touts highway funds
WASHINGTON – The Senate moved Monday to add about $11 billion to a six-year highway and transit bill, predicting a collision course with the Bush administration and a threatened veto.
Senate leaders said the revised package with the extra money, which would raise highway and transit spending to about $295 billion, would be paid for by finding new revenue for the federal highway trust fund. A vote on the bill, including the $11 billion addition, could come by the end of the week.
But Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, in a statement put out in anticipation of the Senate move, said the legislation would bankrupt the trust fund – the money coming in from the federal gasoline tax – by using accounting gimmicks.
“There is a dark cloud looming that will needlessly delay many important highway and transportation projects,” Mineta said.
The previous six-year highway bill expired in September 2003, and spending has had to be continued through six temporary extensions because of the conflict between Congress and the White House over spending levels.
Last year, the White House proposed a $256 billion package, up from $218 billion in the 1998-2003 law, and threatened to veto any bill that added to the federal deficit. This year, the administration has said that anything above $284 billion – the number approved by the House in March – would be subject to a presidential veto.
The Senate, which approved a $318 billion bill last year, has pressed for higher spending, saying more is needed to repair the nation’s inadequate, congested and deteriorating roadways.
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