Faced with the expiration of the federal highway funding law and the impending insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund, the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday passed the stopgap Highway Transportation Funding Act to continue highway funding authority through July.
The vote was 387-35 in favor of passing the extension. All four members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation voted yes. The bill next goes to the Senate.
The current highway funding law, MAP-21, was set to expire May 31, leaving Congress with no funding authority to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to become insolvent in August.
Seventy percent of Arkansas’ highway construction funding comes from the federal Highway Trust Fund. Uncertain about those reimbursements, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has withdrawn 70 projects this year with an estimated construction value of $282 million.
This is the second time Congress has extended MAP-21. It was extended last year shortly before it was set to expire with a 10-month, $10.8 billion funding patch paid with revenues from the next 10 years. This bill would extend it for two more months.
Fourth District Rep. Bruce Westerman said Tuesday on the House floor that he plans on Thursday to introduce the Prioritizing American Roads and Jobs Act, which would fund highways by reducing Medicaid expenditures. The bill would reduce the 100% reimbursement rates provided to the Medicaid expansion population under the Affordable Care Act to the level of traditional Medicaid, which is reimbursed by the federal government to Arkansas at a rate of 70%. In Arkansas, that population is served by the so-called private option.
Westerman said the bill would add $15 billion a year to the Highway Trust Fund.
Third District Rep. Steve Womack released the following statement: “Safe and reliable transportation infrastructure is essential for sustained economic growth in Arkansas, and I will continue to advocate for a long-term solution for our highways. Piecemeal funding is inadequate and unacceptable, but we mustn’t allow our roads and bridges to crumble while we work towards returning solvency and dependability to the Highway Trust Fund once and for all. As such, I support extending Highway Trust Fund authority through the end of July, preventing a critical interruption in transportation investment as we work to finalize a larger agreement.”
First District Rep. Rick Crawford said in a statement, “Our debt crisis continues to overextend precious resources for critical projects, like continued investment in our nation’s infrastructure. To be successful, a long-term solution must combine a consistent funding mechanism with financial transparency: our current system, through shortfalls and opaque applications of funding, has lost the trust of Americans, who don’t know where or how their tax dollars are being invested. Both the Transportation and Ways and Means Committees will have to consider new, creative funding alternatives to find a fiscally sustainable solution to this chronic problem.”
Second District Rep. French Hill said in a statement, “A 21st century system of roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, and railroads is essential to a 21st century economy. Unfortunately, our current infrastructure is outdated and will continue to limit our economic capabilities until it receives a serious makeover. While today’s vote is not the final answer to this problem, it will give Congress the time needed to create a long-term solution that puts no additional burden on the taxpayer, encourages job growth, and promotes commerce throughout Arkansas and the rest of the country.”