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Highway bill hits Senate detour

Indiana would receive $280 million more in federal money for highway improvements under a bill that stalled Tuesday in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., has sponsored an amendment to base the highway funding formula entirely on each state’s share of federal gasoline tax payments. Under that scenario, Indiana would receive 2.71 percent of total gas tax revenue, Coats says, rather than the 2.35 percent contained in the Senate’s surface transportation legislation.

Coats has estimated his plan would distribute $2.14 billion to Indiana, compared with $1.86 billion under the original bill. Funding formulas have typically taken into account the expanse, congestion and age of highways in each state as well as gas tax payments, with Indiana and other “donor” states paying more in taxes than they get back in revenue.

Coats’ proposal was among 37 amendments that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recommended be approved during a procedural vote Tuesday on the two-year, $109 billion transportation bill. But Coats, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and most other Republicans opposed the move. Requiring 60 votes to advance, the bill failed 52-48.

“I don’t know why everything we have to do has to be a fight – not a disagreement, a fight,” Reid complained on the Senate floor about the GOP’s insistence that other amendments be considered. Reid said those provisions were not germane to surface transportation.

Federal authorization for highway and mass-transit funding is scheduled to expire at month’s end.

Among the amendments pushed by Republicans is one sponsored by Lugar and two other GOP senators to allow construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama has denied a permit for the pipeline and wants more environmental and safety reviews.

A version of the transportation reauthorization bill that would spend $260 billion over five years has failed to attract support in the GOP-controlled House.