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Congress passes tax reform bill that strengthens highway investment

Both the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) applauded the House and Senate finance and trasnportation leaders for their support of the "American Jobs Creation Act" that includes important provisions to restructure the way ethanol-based fuels are taxed — as well as important reforms that will reduce and hopefully eliminate motor fuel tax evasion. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that these provisions will result in more than $24 billion invested in highway infrastructure over the next six years.

"Congress reconginized that the user fee system has worked well over the years to build and preserve our nation's highway infrastructure," says Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of the AGC. "The ethanol reform provisions that are included in the corporate tax bill will ensure that all highway users contribute the same amount toward maintaining and improving our roads and bridges. Not only will these provisions help to improve highway infrastructure, they will create nearly 1 million jobs over the next five years."

Currently, ethanol-blended fuels, such as gasohol, are taxed at 5.2 cents less per gallon than gasoline. In addition, 2.5 cents of the user fee on every gallon of ethanol-blended fuel goes into the general fund rather than being deposited into the Highway Trust Fund.

While these tax perferences were intended to make ethanol-blended fuels more attractive to motorists and thereby reduce America's dependence on imported oil, the Highway Trust Fund has lost tens of billions of dollars as a result. In effect, this preference has decreased the amount of funding that state departments of transportation receive from the federal government to help pay for road infrastructure improvements. U.S. DOT estimates that each $1 billion invested in highway construction generates 45,000 new jobs.

"The [senate leaders'] vision in this area will ensure that America continues to move toward 'home-grown' alternative energy sources to power the nation's motor vehicle fleet, thus reducing our depenedence on foreign oil — at the same time we're working toward meeting the nation's transportation needs," says Pete Ruane, ARTBA president and CEO. "These congressional leaders have also corrected a longtime tax inequity."

In addition to the ethanol language, the corporate tax bill aslo includes provions regarding fuel tax evasion and fuel fraud enforcement to ensure that all motor fuel taxes are deposited into the Highway Trust Fund.

President Bush signed the bill into law at the end of October.

TEA reauthorization postponed

According to Flexible Pavements of Ohio, Congress has again failed to enact a six-year transportation funding bill. TEA-21 expired over a year ago in September 2003. Federal transportation programs have been continued under a series of extensions of TEA-21. Most recently, Congress passed an eight-month extension bill to continue the TEA-21 highway and transit programs until May 31, 2005.

The eight-month extension bill, H.R. 5138, effectively provides states with two-thirds of their F.Y. 2005 funding, or $24.5 billion for highways and $5.2 billion for transit.

According to Flexible Pavements of Ohio, TEA reauthorization has become mired in election year politics and competing state interests. House and Senate negotiators had come close to agreeing on the final outline of a compromise package that would authorize nearly $300 billion for surface transportation programs through 2008. Uncertainty among the states over the impact of this funding level, which guarantees the states $284 billion over the six-year life of the package, coupled with other policy differences and the short time frame remaining before Congress returned home, scuttled efforts to finish work on the new program.

Association to mark 50th anniversary of highway system

The Interstate Highway System — the 46,717-mile ribbon of concrete and asphalt that links and moves America — will be 50 years old in 2006. And the national association founded 102 years ago to make the system a reality has announced plans to mark the occasion with a series of education programs and events that will spotlight how the highway network impacts American life.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) says it will cap these activities with a gala dinner event at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2006, the 50th anniversary of President Dwight Eisenhower signing federal legislation that created the Interstate Highway System construction program and the user-supported Highway Trust Fund to finance it.

"As the Interstate System approaches 50, it's facing a 'mid-life crisis' that few outside our industry and the public agencies that manage it seem to understand," says ARTBA Chairman Rich Wagman, who is chairman and CEO of York, PA-based G.A. & F.C. Wagman Inc. "Over the past four decades, the Interstates have handled traffic volumes and vehicle weights that have dramatically exceeded the usage projections of those who developed and designed the plan in the 1940s and 50s. That beating — combined with the system's capacity shortcomings — has taken a great toll.

"There will be serious consequences for the nation if the capital investment and resource challenges that face the Interstate aren't fully understood and met."

Wagman said ARTBA will be working with its government and association partners over the next 20 months to develop and stage a series of programs and events focusing on the critical role the Interstate Highway System plays in America's economy, security and quality of life. These will include national issue and policy forums, public awareness and education projects, media outreach, and research activities.

Stone aligns with GE Commercial Finance, adds warehouse

Stone Construction Equipment Inc. and its subsidiary, Stone Financing Inc., have formed a new alliance with GE Commercial Finance, Vendor Financial Services, to provide end user financing to its dealers. The new program will offer various financial options, including: operating leases or fair market value leases; purchase options; and loans.

In related news, Stone has added a warehouse in Portland, OR. The new warehouse will help expedite Stone's distribution of products to dealers in the Northwest.

Company donates tarps to hurricane victims

Pulltarps Mfg. donated heavy vinyl tarps to the American Red Cross disaster relief effort for the hurricane victims in Florida and the Southeast region.

"Our hearts go out to the people that have been battered by the hurricanes this season," says Lynn Chenowth, president. "We had devastating wildfires throughout San Diego County last October, and the outpouring of assistance from the American Red Cross and others is not forgotten. We're fortunate to be in a position to give something back at this time. We hope this donation will help during this difficult time."