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Johnson: Long-term fix needed for Highway Trust Fund

As Congress wrestles with how to keep money rolling down the nation's highways and over its bridges, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., wants a long ribbon of road and not a short little street.

South Dakota's senior senator told reporters Wednesday that he wants Congress to pass a long-term funding mechanism to keep the nation's Highway Trust Fund flush. He does not support a short-term, $11 billion 10-month funding patch that passed the House by a 367-55 margin Tuesday.

"A short-term funding fix is like throwing bit of asphalt in pothole. It does not address the underlying problem," Johnson said.

He expects the Senate to vote on the issue next week, and according to national reports, the House-passed bill is one of three options Senate leaders hope to send to the floor for a vote.

A different short-term funding proposal has been passed by the Senate Finance Committee, while Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer seems to align with Johnson in preferring the passage of a long-term funding mechanism.

Boxer told Politico that a short-term fix is "a really a bad idea because the longer the patch, the longer the indecision, the more jobs lost, the more businesses go under."

Johnson acknowledges that a short-term fix might be necessary to avoid cutting funding to states "at the peak of the construction season," but said any short-term deal should be done alongside a long-term one.

"I hope if Congress passes a short-term funding fix to the Highway Trust Fund, it will provide an opportunity to provide a long-term Surface Transportation bill by the end of this year," Johnson said.

If Congress does not act before Aug. 1, the amount of transportation funding sent to the 50 states will be cut, "endangering hundreds of thousands of jobs," Johnson said.

South Dakota receives $2.35 for every $1 its residents pay in to the fund via the gas tax, amounting to about $270 million per year, Johnson said.

The fund was set up in 1956, and the gas tax has not changed since 1993, he said.

"Because cars have become more fuel efficient and because the gas tax ... isn't adjusted for inflation, revenues are not keeping up with the increasing costs of our nation's infrastructure needs," he said. "Without an infusion of federal month, the Highway Trust Fund is not going to be able to meet its obligations."

While building and fixing roads and bridges might not sound exciting, Johnson said it's essential to the national economy and national security.

"It creates good-paying construction jobs and helps with the economic recovery. It helps us to compete internationally, making it more efficient to transport our ag and manufacturing goods to market," Johnson said. "Long-term investment in our nation's transportation infrastructure needs to be a priority."