U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, center, met in Hartford last week with Connecticut officials.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, center, met in Hartford last week with Connecticut officials.

Washington – It’s not often Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers and the state AFL-CIO agree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but when it comes to federal transportation funding, they’ve found themselves on the same page.

In a joint statement Friday, Connecticut’s delegation urged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to cancel the August recess and work on replenishing a fund that is the source of most of the nation’s transportation projects. And like the Chamber of Commerce and the Connecticut AFL-CIO, the lawmakers want Congress to find a long-term solution to the problem.

“With the uncertainty of funding shortages already casting a shadow over needed transportation projects in Connecticut and across the country, we cannot afford to lose another opportunity to truly strengthen the Highway Trust Fund,” said the joint statement by the five House members: John B. Larson of the 1st District, Joe Courtney of the 2nd, Rosa DeLauro of the 3rd,  Jim Himes of the 4th and Elizabeth Esty of the 5th.

The Highway Trust Fund, the major source for construction and repairs of highways and bridges, receives most of its money from an 18.4 cent tax on gasoline, but fuel-efficient cars have slowed replenishment of the fund.

Last week, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that unless Congress acts before Aug. 1, states can expect to see an average 28 percent drop in federal payments for their highway construction projects.

Foxx personally took his warning to Connecticut, and several other states with receptive Democratic governors, including Kentucky and Rhode Island.

After Foxx met with members of the state’s congressional delegation and with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the governor announced that more than 80 Connecticut highway, bridge and rail projects are at risk of delay.

Connecticut’s transportation budget is nearly $1.5 billion this year, including nearly $648 million from the federal government and about $300 million in funds carried over from last year.

House Republicans are minimizing the impact of the highway trust fund crisis, and Boehner is not likely to cancel Congress’s August break. But the House GOP moved this week to avert imminent insolvency of the trust fund.

Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee backed a short-term plan that would fund it through next May.

The proposal would raise $11 billion through pension tax changes, customs fees and money from a budget to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks.

But Senate Democrats and the members of the Connecticut congressional delegation prefer a permanent fix, as do business groups and labor organizations representing the construction trades.

“The Connecticut delegation is right – Congress needs to stay over the recess and continue through the (post-November election) lame duck session until the job is done,” said Donald J. Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association and Lori Pelletier of the Connecticut AFL-CIO in a joint statement.

With a strong GOP pushback against proposals to raise the gasoline tax, however, a long-term solution is elusive and the Connecticut delegation may have to eventually back a short-term plan.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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