As lawmakers work to salvage a deal on a new transportation funding bill, a group of 150 House Democrats is calling on the committee negotiating the measure to avoid using money from a trust fund for land and water conservation.
The group said in a letter to highway conference committee leaders Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) that the 47-member panel that has been negotiating on the transportation bill for more than a month should find other sources of money for road and transit projects.
“We are writing to ask that you include in the final conference report on the surface transportation reauthorization the Senate-passed language on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF),” the lawmakers wrote.
“We support the Senate-passed LWCF provision, the LWCF/RESTORE Act amendment, which reaffirms Congress’s commitment to the LWCF program and provides dedicated funding for the next two years and reauthorizes the program through 2022,” the group’s letter continued. “The LWCF is and always has been a bipartisan program and is a proven economic driver that ensures all Americans have access to outdoor recreation opportunities.”
Lawmakers have been grappling with ways to cover a gap between the amount of revenue brought in by the federal gas tax, which is traditionally used to fund transportation projects, and the amount of spending in each chamber’s proposal for a new highway bill. The gas tax generates approximately $36 billion a year for the highway trust fund, but the House and Senate’s original proposals each called for spending more than $50 billion per year on transportation.
The Senate proposed a package of tax loopholes and fee increases it said would generate most of the difference, but the group of lawmakers lobbying to protect the land and water conservation funds said the upper chamber opted to steer clear of the trust fund.
The House originally proposed paying for the difference with increased domestic oil drilling, though the lower chamber’s proposal for a five-year, $260 billion measure struggled to win support from conservative Republicans in the chamber.
The highway conference committee has until June 30 to reach an agreement on a transportation bill before the scheduled expiration of the current mechanism for funding road and transit projects. The government’s authorization to collect the gas tax is also included in the transportation bill.