Over the month of August, I was privileged to travel throughout Texas to hear directly from citizens about the issues that affect them and their families. Texans shared with me their concerns about rising gas prices, and the need to keep taxes low so they have more money to pay their bills.
First and foremost, we have a duty to protect Americans and to provide for those who fight to keep our homeland safe. The Senate is considering an expansive defense bill that strengthens our military by allocating resources for an additional 12,000 active duty troops for the Army and Marine Corps. This force expansion places us closer to our planned increase of 92,000 troops. The bill also gives members of the armed forces a well-deserved raise, effective Jan. 1, 2009.
Second, Congress owes the American people a real solution to the energy crisis, which is burdening American families and small businesses with genuine hardships. I have helped lead the fight for legislation that would draw upon American resources and free-market ingenuity to produce more fuel, while also tapering our consumption. The Senate Republicans have proposed a bill that would repeal the Congressional moratorium on deep-water exploration and allow us to safely tap our own resources and increase American supply. In addition to drilling on American soil and off our own coasts now, we should exploit renewable fuel sources, and expand our portfolio of clean alternatives, like wind, solar, and nuclear energy.
Third, passage of extensions for key tax provisions that are set to expire later this year is a priority. One of the most important components of this legislation would extend the state and local sales tax deduction. In 2004, I was able to get this deduction through the Senate and I will continue to try to make this deduction permanent. The tax extender bill would also prolong the renewable energy production tax credit, which gives tax incentives for energy generated by wind facilities. Texas is the foremost wind energy producer in the United States and the extension of this credit will help us maintain our national leadership in this technology. The bill includes a provision to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program through 2011. Because some counties in East Texas have a high proportion of federally-owned land, these communities generate less state and local tax revenue to fund their schools. The Secure Rural Schools program is essential to ensures stable payments to keep these schools operating.
Finally, Congress must replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which is the largest single source of funding for roads in Texas and across the nation. The U.S. Department of Transportation warns that the Trust Fund will be dangerously low by October, in part because of lower fuel tax receipts and needed expenditures on highway projects during the recent peak construction season. However, the insolvency is also due to Trust Fund revenues being transferred to the General Fund during times of emergency. Congress must pass a fix that discourages budgeting gimmicks that raid the Highway Trust Fund. Replenishing the fund to its projected balance means approximately $640 million will go into Texas highways that otherwise would be halted.
During the limited time remaining in this legislative session, we have a full agenda before us. I am committed to making every minute of these final days count, and I will continue to work diligently on behalf of all Texans in the U.S. Senate.