Senate panel approves $284B highway bill

March 16, 2005 at 5:47 PM

WASHINGTON, March 16 (UPI) -- A Senate panel approved a $284 billion highway construction and transportation funding bill Wednesday, setting up a floor fight to increase the funding level.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's approval of the six-year surface transportation measure follows House approval of its version of its competing version last week.

Lawmakers failed to come to terms last year with the White House for a funding level on the highway bill that Congress had hoped to fund at a higher level that the Bush administration has supported.

Republicans and Democrats on the panel, including Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., indicated they would work to increase the funding level on the Senate floor beyond the White House's $284 billion threshold.

Beyond the potential funding difference, a particularly contentious provision in the House measure remains unresolved: how much money states should get back in federal gasoline taxes that fund the measure.

A provision to the measure during House floor debate guarantees around $11 billion in projects wanted by individual members in an effort to squelch dissent over the issue.

House members from so-called donor-states, such as California and Texas -- which get back less money than they pay in federal gas taxes -- have been pushing for an increase in the current 90.5% return rate.

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