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Durbin Warns of Highway Project Funding Problems

Updated: Tuesday, July 8 2014, 04:34 PM CDT
ILLINOIS -- Highway construction slowing to a halt and workers left in a bind - that was the picture Sen. Dick Durbin and unions painted Monday in Springfield.

Durbin was in town, calling on Congress to find a way to fund the Highway Trust Fund through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. The fund is reaching the bottom of the barrel, and in August states could see their federal reimbursements for transportation projects start to shrink or even stop.

"We want to keep folks working good paying jobs to make sure that the federal government keeps its promise," Durbin said. "We don't need a shutdown of the federal Highway Trust Fund."

Speaking at an overpass reconstruction project over I-72, Durbin said states will have to make tough decisions as a result - possibly delaying their own payments to contractors or even putting off projects.

The unions who joined Durbin say that could mean lay offs on the affected projects.

"They do not lay asphalt in January and February," said Sean Stott from the Laborers' International Union of North America. "You have to make hay while the sun is shining."

Workers don't relish the idea of halted projects either.

"We'd be sitting at home," said Eric Peterson, a construction worker on the overpass reconstruction site. "I mean literally sitting at home, waiting on the next thing or having to find something else to do."

Though in the case of Illinois at least that doomsday scenario might not happen.

An Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman says the department believes it has enough resources to carry on for three or four few months if the trust fund does bottom out.

But IDOT would rather Congress come up with a solution, and Durbin says Senate Democrats have one.

"We can finish the year with tax loopholes, which frankly most people won't even notice," Durbin noticed.

Durbin did not provide many more details besides that , but said there will be a hearing on Tuesday to present the plan. After that, he says, it will be time to talk long term solutions.

Instead of raising the gas tax, which he called regressive, he says possibilities include taxing the imported barrels or coming up with a different highway usage tax.

"Saying I'm open doesn't mean I'm going to vote for it," Durbin said. "I invite this debate and I want to see the options. I haven't committed to any of 'em."

This problem looks to grow even worse if Congress can't develop a long term plan. If transportation spending stays level over the next six years, a $100 million gap is projected between revenue and spending.

The federal gas and diesel taxes, which are the primary revenue source for the highway trust fund, are currently 18.4 and 24.4 cents per gallon, respectively. They have not been in increased in 20 years.Durbin Warns of Highway Project Funding Problems

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