With the August congressional recess a month away, Congress doesn’t have much time left to fix the projected shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.
The latest estimates still have the HTF running out of cash by the end of August and the balance dropping below a $4 billion safety balance just before July 25. At some point after the fund drops below $4 billion but before the account runs out of money, the U.S. Department of Transportation will likely institute cash management strategies. These strategies could include late or reduced reimbursements to states.
Bipartisan Gas Tax Proposal
A long-term bill to replace MAP-21 which expires September 30 or any other substantive piece of legislation was always a long shot in this election year. That did not stop two senators from putting forward a bipartisan proposal to raise the gas tax to help provide long-term stability to the fund.
The plan presented by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) calls for a 12 cent increase in the federal gas tax – six cents in each of the next two years – and then indexing the rate to inflation. The federal gas tax was last increased in 1993.
To offset the higher gas tax, Corker and Murphy propose to provide “net tax relief to American families and businesses.” It is unclear how they planned to cover the offsetting tax cuts or whether they would utilize DC accounting and simply spend each dollar twice. However, this is probably moot as this proposal has little chance of going anywhere in the near future.
Short-Term Extension Moving
With no consensus on how to fund surface transportation programs for the long term, both chambers of Congress are looking to pass in July legislation which will add just enough money to the Highway Trust Fund to keep things moving until after the election.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) put forth a proposal to provide a $9 billion infusion to the HTF to pay for programs through December 31. The original plan was to find money from various tax code changes, including a fee increase on heavy trucks. Wyden later modified his proposal to address Republican opposition to certain funding offsets.
Chairman Wyden and Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have reached out to their House counterparts with the goal of identifying funding offsets that can be acceptable on a bipartisan, bicameral basis.
The House had previously floated a proposal which included an extension of the current surface reauthorization paid for in large part by eliminating Saturday postal delivery.
The House passed its fiscal year 2015 appropriations bill to fund transportation earlier this month. As covered in last month’s newsletter, funding for most programs is continued at prior year levels.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its own FY 2015 transportation funding measure. There are three main differences between the House and Senate versions of the FY 2015 Transportation appropriations bill:
- Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants (a.k.a. new starts and small starts): $2.161 billion in the Senate bill - $218 million more than FY 2014 and $470 million more than the House bill.
- TIGER Grants: $550 million in the Senate bill versus $100 million in the House bill.
- AMTRAK Grants: $1.390 billion in the Senate bill – equal to FY2014 and $200 million more than the House.
Of course these appropriations bills assume that the Highway Trust Fund solvency issue will be fixed.
TDA Transportation Truths – TDA has released the seventh installment in its series, the Big 10 Transportation Truths. The latest transportation truth is entitled Why Transportation Matters: Because There is Never Just one Way to Get There.
This seventh Truth highlights the importance of transportation options to Wisconsin residents. While 80% of workers commute in a private vehicle, the remaining 20% carpool, walk, take public transportation, bike or work from home. Our transportation system helps ensure that there is not just one way to get there.
TDA developed this series to explain in a quick and fun way why transportation matters in our state. Past Truths have shown the importance of transportation to critical Wisconsin industries, such as manufacturing and farming, and how transportation is financed in Wisconsin. Future issues will depict the relationship between transportation investment and safety, and focus on transportation as a key to remaining competitive.
AAA Survey – According to a survey conducted by AAA, a majority of Americans believe the federal government should spend more on transportation infrastructure.
Survey highlights include:
- About half of Americans (52 percent) are willing to pay higher fuel taxes per month on average for better roads, bridges and mass transit systems.
- Nearly three times as many people (51 percent) are more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports increased federal spending on transportation than would be less likely (19 percent).
- Approximately two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) agree that taxes on gasoline and diesel consumption are appropriate for transportation funding.
- More people believe that roads, bridges and transit systems have declined in quality over the previous three years (43 percent) than those who believe the quality has improved (32 percent).