WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly approved a proposal to prohibit the use of private-activity bond financing on certain toll roads as they inched toward final passage of a two-year, $109 billion highway reauthorization bill Tuesday.
They voted 50 to 47 to approve an amendment offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to the transportation bill sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and James Inhofe, R-Okla. Bingaman’s amendment would prevent the use of PAB financing for so-called brownfield concessions, which are dilapidated infrastructure systems, including existing toll roads leased by private companies for terms usually exceeding 75 years.
“This is a modest change,” Bingaman told his colleagues during floor debate of his amendment just before the vote. He argued that it didn’t make sense to let taxpayers foot the bill while giving private companies a tax break. “I think it is a common-sense amendment,” he said.
The measure had the support of the trucking industry and motorist advocacy groups, but was opposed by public-private partnership advocates and road builders. The American Road and Transportation Builders Alliance circulated a letter urging senators to oppose the amendment, and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the amendment was the wrong thing to do.
“It’s morally wrong to take away a state’s right to leverage its capital assets,” Coburn said.
The bill, which passed out of committee with unanimous bipartisan consent, could be approved as soon as Tuesday night.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told elected officials at a National League of Cities conference yesterday that he expected the Boxer-Inhofe bill to pass this week, and industry lobbyists also expect the bill to gain approval.
If and when it does, lawmakers will still face a challenge. The current highway reauthorization law, now on its eighth extension since it initially expired on Sept. 30, 2009, expires again on March 31.
A five-year, $260 billion proposal backed by Republicans has stalled in the House, leading many to conclude that at least one more extension may be necessary unless House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agrees to introduce the Senate bill. Boehner has said he might do so, but has also restated his commitment to the original five-year bill. The House is in recess until next week.