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Sen. Blunt 'Optimistic' A Multi-Year Highway Bill Can Pass Congress

Elle Moxley

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt emphasized the need for Congress to pass a five- or six-year highway bill during a stop in Blue Springs, Missouri, Friday morning.

The Highway Trust Fund is set to expire next month after being propped up for years with stopgap legislation.

"You can't build roads and bridges six months at a time," Blunt told civic leaders at a Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce breakfast. "You can't get the best bid, you can't get the work done, you can't do anything you need to do there six months or even two years at a time."

Blunt says there's no support for raising the federal fuel tax, set at 18.3 cents a gallon for gasoline and about a quarter for diesel. Since 2008, the Highway Trust Fund has needed money from the general fund to stay solvent.

Blunt thinks moving money to prop up the fund is bad policy because people generally support the gas tax.

"One of the reasons people support (the gas tax) is because they think it's fair, and it's paid for by users," Blunt said. "Why would you take taxes that people don't like and supplement a program they're generally supportive instead of trying to make that program work better?"

Blunt's part of a group of lawmakers that see a fix in the profits of U.S. corporations earned overseas. He wants to offer a tax break to those companies if they move what he calls "stranded profits" back here.

"I think both Barbara Boxer, the leading Democrat on that committee, and Sen. (Jim) Inhofe, our neighbor from Oklahoma, want a multi-year bill," Blunt says. "I think everyone understands why we need one."

Blunt says the gap between what the gas tax produces and the country's transportation needs is about $20 billion annually.

Closer to home, Missouri lawmakers are also grappling with a shortfall in money for roads. States have to kick in partial funding for projects financed with federal dollars. But Missouri's transportation budget is in such bad shape the state could run out of money to finance its share sometime next year.

If lawmakers don't come up with a fix this session, that could mean Missouri wouldn't be able to tap into federal dollars for roads and bridges in fiscal year 2017.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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