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Congress passes highway bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress gave final approval Thursday to a $10.8 billion bill to keep federal highway money flowing to states through the summer construction season and the fall elections.

The Senate passed the House-written bill on an 81-13 vote after rejecting it earlier this week. The legislation includes enough money to supply money for highway and transit programs at promised levels through next May. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Transportation Department had set Friday as the day the Highway Trust Fund would run out of reserves and told states they could expect an average 28 percent reduction in federal aid. The fund relies primarily on gasoline and diesel fuel taxes that haven’t been increase in two decades.

The two houses had played legislative ping pong with the issue in recent days because of a dispute over the House bill’s reliance on what critics called a “gimmick” for its funding. The bill covers more than half of its cost by letting companies defer required contributions to their employee pension plans, thus raising corporate profits and, temporarily, the tax revenues from those profits.

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