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Noem calls on Senate to pass Highway Trust Fund bill

The U.S. Senate should pass the Highway Trust Fund spending bill already OK'd by a wide margin in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said Wednesday.

The trust fund has been slowly running out of money for a decade, Noem said, but it's reaching a critical point where a lack of funding could halt construction projects.

"I want to make sure South Dakota's construction projects go forward uninterrupted," Noem said. "The president has indicated he's in favor of the House bill. (If passed by the Senate), it can go right to the president and get this uncertainty off the table."

The House bill would keep the trust fund solvent through May 2015 and "is fully paid for" from sources that have earned support from both Democrats and Republicans in the past, Noem said.

Last week, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., called for Congress to pass a long-term funding plan for the trust fund, saying the short-term plan passed by the House would not address the fund's underlying problems.

Noem agrees that a long-term solution is needed, as revenue from the federal gas tax continues to lag behind the costs to keep up the nation's highways.

"We definitely have to start coming together and finding some long-term solutions. These short-term bandaids just don't work with the kinds of bids and processes you have to go through to build these complex, multi-year construction projects," Noem said. "We haven't been able to get the House and Senate to agree on how we pay for this funding that needs to flow through. That's why you see the House pull funding from different areas that have already been agreed upon. But that only added up to enough funding to get us through May."

Noem said she has favored devoting a portion of royalties from leases to drill oil on federal land to the Highway Trust Fund, but she complained no new leases have been approved under the Obama administration.

Noem said she doesn't believe the federal gas tax can be relied upon long term.

"The gas tax is declining. More people are using alternative fuels. The gas tax isn't very equitable. It isn't going to be a source of funds when we see construction costs continue to go up," Noem said.